'Thalavan' movie review: An engaging whodunit amid few missteps

The scenes involving police brutality are necessitated with the plot requirements and thankfully not glamourised or staged desirably.
A still from the film
A still from the film

KOCHI: If you look at Jis Joy’s entire filmography as a storyteller, the one common factor would be his quintessential tendency to paint almost all his characters white, replete with goodness, regardless of their questionable actions. On that note, his latest outing, Thalavan, is a largely welcome departure from his mushy repertoire so far. The promotional materials and some scenes in the first act might suggest that the film is yet another tale about an ego clash between two adversarial men. Fortunately, the heart of the film shifts away from this overused trope, which has become tiresome following the numerous films that came following Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020). Thalavan is a bonafide whodunit at its core.

The film begins with Udayabhanu  (Dileesh Pothan), a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police, preparing to recount one of his case diaries for a memoir series on television, similar to the show Charithram Enniloode on Safari TV. The anchor urges him to share his account of a notorious case involving two feuding cops, which had caused him significant trouble during his service. From there, the entire story is told from Udayabhanu’s perspective. The setup of the narration may remind you of how Anant Nag’s character starts telling the story of Rocky Bhai in K.G.F: Chapter 1 (2018), but without excessive dramatisation.

Lately, many Malayalam police procedurals, except for rarities like Anweshippin Kandethum, depict their lead investigator as a broken soul beyond repair or focus on the dysfunctional family of a cop without much relevance to the central plot. Thalavan also explores the family dynamics of one of its lead cops, but it integrates this aspect into the mystery quite adeptly without illustrating him as some high-functioning mess. The scenes involving police brutality are necessitated with the plot requirements and thankfully not glamourised or staged desirably. The writing also succeeds with its final reveal of the culprit and the motive behind the crimes, an area where many promising mystery thrillers often fall short due to the lack of a satisfying payoff.

While the narrative possesses an appealing structure overall, particularly for fans of the genre, there are instances where Anand Thevarkkat and Sarath Perumbavoor’s screenplay falters. When one of the leads ends up in jail after getting into trouble, we are presented with the same stereotypical sequence involving a brawl within the prison confines. While many of the red herrings skillfully distract our attention as part of foreshadowing, a few are simply redundant—seemingly inserted for the sole purpose of providing comic relief. Also, reminiscent of Anweshippin Kandethum, the proceedings hardly evoke a sense of intense foreboding when the leads are running out of time to solve the crime. Like some of the recent suspense thrillers, Thalavan also ends with an unwarranted sequel bait, which plays out like an afterthought. Asif Ali, as SI Karthik Vasudevan, is effectively in his element while portraying a righteous and outspoken police officer who has been transferred multiple times in his brief career. This must be the first time he has played anything close to an angry, earnest cop, and he has made it count while having a larger screen time. Right from his first scene opposite the other lead in the film, the assertiveness that the actor brings remains consistent throughout the film.

From the days of Pathram (1998) to Thalavan, Biju Menon has portrayed various shades of a police officer over two and a half decades. As CI Jayashankar, a flexible officer in charge of a police station, he plays the seasoned cop with ease. In the supporting cast, Kottayam Nazeer as CPO Reghu leaves a lasting impression as a conniving cop. Dileesh Pothan as Dy SP Udayabhanu delivers an adequate performance. Miya George and Anusree hardly contribute anything apart from being functional.

Aided by some tight framing, Thalavan must be the most visually impressive film helmed by Jis Joy yet, and the credit goes to cinematographer Sharan Velayudhan. On the musical front, Deepak Dev does a lot of heavy lifting with his background score without being too loud, despite his rousing track Thalavan Theme Song being placed unceremoniously during the end credits.

After failing with Innale Vare, it’s safe to say Jis Joy’s attempt to shift genres has considerably succeeded with Thalavan. While the film may not be an entirely gripping experience, it still is an engaging murder mystery.

Film: Thalavan

Cast: Asif Ali, Biju Menon,

Dileesh Pothan, Kottayam Nazeer, Miya George, Anusree

Director: Jis Joy

Rating: 3/5

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