Kaithi movie cast: Karthi, Narain, Vatsan Chakravarthy
Kaithi movie director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Kaithi movie rating: 3.5 stars
Director Lokesh Kanagaraj made his debut last year with Maanagaram, which followed the events in the lives of outsiders, who struggle to find their way around a huge metropolis. In a way, his second feature film, Kaithi, which released today, is also an “outsider film”. Unlike his previous film, the sense of outside-ness of Kaithi doesn’t stem from the unfamiliarity of the physical territory. Instead, the unfamiliarity emerges from the headspace of the characters.
The characters in Kaithi are in a constant fight-or-flight mode. Lokesh forces them to choose between pain and pride. Surrender or resist. Self-preservation or the greater good. And these choices are made by everyday folks, who neither have the stomach, nor muscle to put up a fight against the dreaded criminals.
The entire film plays out like the third act. In other words, the film feels like over 2-long-hour climax. But, you don’t feel the film is long as Lokesh uses very little time to set up the plot. Bejoy (Narain) leads a special task force that carries out the largest drugs seizure. The total value of the captured drugs is pegged at over Rs 800 crore. The money is in the chase. The night is still young. Let the chaos begin.
An ordinary night turns into a seemingly never-ending nightmare for a handful of common people, who are forced to fight the proxy war of the authorities. A just-released prisoner Dilli (Karti) is entrusted with the lives of Chennai’s top cops. The service of a 23-year-old over-smart and chatty caterer is enlisted to assist Dilli. A handful of engineering students are forced into protecting an unguarded police station. A frail cop must summon the courage in the face of certain death as he has five innocent lives to protect. In fact, the stakes are even higher for a 10-year-old in an orphanage. What are the people in power doing? Well, it is night, isn’t it? So the majority of them are fast asleep and some are sedated.
Lokesh is wise enough to know that nearly 2 hours 30 minutes of non-stop action showing criminals chasing cops is not enough to draw the audience into the narration. He knows high-voltage action extravaganza sans soul and substance is an exercise in futility. And that’s why he latches onto the sentiments that his characters have to offer.
There is a sense of eclecticism in Lokesh’s work. The steadfast elevation of the film’s main emotion calls to mind the storytelling style of SS Rajamouli. Take, for example, the scene where Dilli gets a surprise phone call from his daughter. We feel the first drops of emotions trickling in as the protagonist is reminded of his actual mission: see his long lost daughter. To do so, he should survive the attack. Scene by scene, Lokesh builds on that emotion. Later, there is a significant change to Dilli’s motivation. He now wants something else. And he is also ready to sacrifice his life to secure his desire. And that emotions gradually turns into a wave of mayhem that washes over you towards the end. Thankfully, Lokesh seems to be not a fan of instilling expensive duet songs or a hero introduction number for “commercial reasons.”
Lokesh manages to ride two horses at once with some ease. He effortlessly juggles sentiments and violence keeping the audience hooked. The film is not too tense or it doesn’t fully veer into the territory of melodrama either. The mood is light and pacy, where the audience knows when to laugh. The way the film handles the violent scenes recalls the films of Quentin Tarantino. Of course, it is not exactly like the graphic orgy of violence conducted by the Hollywood auteur. The violence doesn’t make you go “ew” or “ugh”. But, it is bold and crazy enough to arrest our attention.
Karthi has essayed his role in an almost self-effacing manner while allowing the space for other people’s acts of courage in the narration to get their due screen time. Kaithi is the director’s canvas. It is necessary to appreciate Karthi to let Lokesh do his thing without trying to bend the narration to suit his star image.
Lokesh softly but firmly announces himself as a major new force in the commercial space of the Tamil film industry, which still largely feeds on the narrow definition of mainstream entertainment.