During a pivotal juncture in Kaduva, when its hero Kaduvakkunnel Kuriyachan (Prithviraj) is at a low phase, he summons his allies to a hotel. The channel that's on is Doordarshan. The familiar theme immediately brought back memories of discovering, as a kid in the 90s, Malayalam movies for the first time on the channel, some of which had Shaji Kailas at the helm.
Kaduva is a period film very much in the vein of the recent Mammootty-starrer Bheeshma Parvam in that it takes you back in time to not just the time of Doordarshan but Maruti Omnis, Contessas, and the Mercedes Benz 230.
At one point, I wondered if the white Contessa that Vivek Oberoi drives was the same one that carried the thugs that Suresh Gopi fought in the opening scene of Commissioner. At another, I wondered whether Prithviraj's Mercedes Benz 230 was the same one used by Mohanlal in Aaraam Thampuran.
But it's not just the vehicles that appear as callbacks to the Shaji Kailas movies of yore, but some of the most memorable moments from The King, Valyettan, Commissioner, and others: The hero tells a male character that he has only seen half of it (Valyettan); the Chief Minister who is a Guruyarooppan devotee (The King); the husband-wife kitchen romance (Commissioner, Shivam, F.I.R); Janardhanan playing a CM once again (Thalasthanam, F.I.R); a riot scene that recalls the opening from The King; the hero's intro scene where water is a background element (Narasimham), and more...
But above all, Kaduva brings back the Shaji Kailas I adore after a couple of decades. It brings back the filmmaker who showed more grace and restraint long ago. It brings back the filmmaker who paid attention to movie props and involved them in his composition in a way that looked cool only in his films.
Yes, I missed the characteristically fiery dialogues of Renji Panicker, but at the same time, I’m not sure if such lines would work if done today. By the way, who writes like Renji Panicker nowadays? I also missed the music of Rajamani. But, hey, Shaji Kailas is back!
Recently, Lucifer and Bheeshma Parvam revived Malayalis' interest in well-made - I repeat, well-made - 'mass' entertainers after a long time. I had a blast with both, but one common complaint with these two films that I heard was "not enough action" and the fact that we didn’t get to see the leading man as much as we wanted.
Though Kaduva doesn't possess the overall sophistication of the above two films, it successfully takes care of these two complaints, even if most of the film relies on familiar beats.
Prithviraj is in almost every frame, and he gets to do a lot of fights, some of which with the kind of Tamil/Telugu cinema-inspired slow-motion that even the former (a 'protege' of Shaji Kailas) directed in Lucifer.
Thankfully, it's not overdone, and I'm glad that Shaji Kailas avoided the excessive camera gimmicks that gave one a headache in something like, say, The King and the Commissioner. That's not to say the filmmaker completely ignores any opportunity to swirl his cameras.
In the few instances where he does it, he makes it look cool, like in a nighttime chase involving Vivek Oberoi or in the aftermath of a fight scene that saw Kuriyachan smashing a few cops into a pulp.
Kaduva opens with a fight scene inside a prison, which also serves as Kuriyachan’s intro that begins medias res. He is there for a reason, explained later when the film visits events from a few weeks back. The central issue is Kuriyachan's tussle with the entire police force in the area—that is, the cops who came after the Kuriyachan-friendly ones left.
Leading them is DIG Joseph Chandy (Vivek Oberoi), who eventually becomes Kuriyachan's nemesis after a remark about his character that deeply offended him. As Prithviraj joked in some of his interviews, Kaduva can be seen as the third entry in his 'ego' trilogy after Driving Licence and Ayyappanum Koshiyum.
One amusing factor that Kaduva and Ayyappanum Koshiyum share is actor Kottayam Ramesh, who shows up in an integral moment as an ally of Kuriyachan. I couldn't help but smile at the thought. Kaduva is essentially the massier counterpart of Ayyappanum Koshiyum and Driving Licence but without the storytelling finesse of those two.
Having said that, the main factor that works to Kaduva's advantage is Prithviraj's casting. Kuriyachan's degree of arrogance and stubbornness warranted an actor of Prithviraj's stature. Kuriyachan is essentially what Hareendran from Driving Licence would've been if he were a wealthy planter with a family of four.
And Shaji Kailas frames Kuriyachan with the same adoration that Sergio Leone had for his badass characters in Once Upon A Time in the West or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Kuriyachan is precisely the sort of movie character you wish to see when going through a stressful phase. I also found the bond between the characters of Arjun Ashokan and Prithviraj heartwarming.
Though I wished Samyuktha Menon got to do more, I was at least glad to see her playing a wife who doesn't approve of every single thing her husband does. Elsa is the kind of woman who would conceal some facts to protect him.
Of course, as someone watching the film, one would disagree with her behaviour because we want Kuriyachan to find out what happened and then go and beat the s*** out of those who dared to trespass into his abode.
However, the film's biggest flaw, I felt, is Joseph Chandy. He isn't a compelling villain. We get a reason for why he became corrupt, which makes sense from his point of view, but it's flimsy at best. Wouldn't we find plenty of criminals with such a simple excuse for their transgressions?
Considering how Vivek aced the baddie game in Lucifer, I hoped to see a character with more dimensions. (Actor Vineeth has dubbed for him this time around too.) However, this is not a criticism of his performance because he behaves like a man whose ego is hurt, but as a character, he seemed so... basic.
As for Jakes Bejoy's score, aside from one of the main themes and a church festival track ('Pala Palli Thiruppalli'), it fails to make much of an impact. One gets the feeling that Jakes had recycled one of his previous original scores (Kalki, perhaps?).
Abhinandan Ramanujam gets the director of photography credit, but I heard he is not the only one who worked on the film. Sujith Vaassudev's name popped up at one point too. So, who shot what? Are there other cinematographers aside from these two? I'm confused. Whoever it is, Kaduva gets the 90s' aesthetic right, aside from the period details, of course.
I always say that an action movie becomes pointless if the characters - and the actors playing them - don't have the necessary attitude. They would have also failed to generate excitement if the build-up wasn't strong enough.
We need to see the bad guys do something that would provoke our ire so that when, finally, the hero returns for payback, we take delight in every punch that lands. Thankfully, Kaduva follows this philosophy to a T, and I had quite a blast.
Director: Shaji Kailas
Cast: Prithviraj, Samyuktha Menon, Vivek Oberoi, Rahul Madhav, Alencier Ley Lopez, Baiju