WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
There are some films you wish you watched them in the State they were made in. Typically with new-age Malayalam films, all you need is the comfort of a familiar Sathyam Cinemas to enjoy the visual/aural experience in its totality, as these particular films are made with more attention devoted to the technical aspects than the commercial appeal of its leading stars.
With Kali, I wasn’t lucky enough to catch it at Sathyam, and had to settle for a home-theatre sized screen a stone’s throw away…Devi. And if you’d like to argue saying Devi has one of the largest screens, you’ve obviously not been to Devi Bala.
But apart from the air reeking of disinfectant, the matchbox-sized screening room, the projector’s light making silhouettes of different unfamiliar ‘thalas’ through most of the film’s runtime, the atmosphere was electric to say the least. And that is exactly Kali’s doing. It’s one of those films that doesn’t compromise on its technicalities, screenplay or the performance of its leads, yet manages to evoke intermittent eruptive cheers and screams from the audience.
While not without its flaws, there are several things that make Kali one of 2016’s most unmissable films:
5. Unfalteringly simple story, unbelievably brilliant screenplay
If you’re looking forward to watching Kali, there isn’t a chance that you haven’t seen the trailer yet. It hints at the plot line of the film, which is about a short-tempered young man, and how his anger might possible affect his relationship with the woman he loves, and the people around him. If you thought there was more to the story, you’re going to be terribly disappointed…yet pleasantly surprised by the end of the film. There is literally nothing more to the story than the trailer reveals, and it’s all about the way Sameer Tahir projects it onto the silver screen. Within the first few minutes, you get to understand everything you need to know about this volatile, hair-tempered character and it delves right into the proceedings without wasting any time at all. While the first half is a series of short events that literally test Siddharth’s(Dulquer Salman) patience, the second half veers into a completely different, NH10-ish territory(have I revealed too much?) that constantly reminds you to keep clutching at your heart to make sure it’s still there. While one of the only few flaws a Malayalam film is guilty of is slow, indulgent pacing, Kali it right out of the park with its no-nonsense, tight and ECG-like screenplay.
One of my favourite scenes plays out right at the beginning of the movie. It’s a simple campus fight, but the way it’s shot would put high-budget war epics like 300 to shame. No, this scene has no CGI, no extravagant production designs and elaborate costumes. Just a bunch of guys having their customary college fight. But the excellent use of the 60-degree angle and the pauses within all the punches and kicks thrown is what creates such a powerful impact.
4. Spectacular use of sound and background score
There are some who might complain that the sound and background score are a bit too jarring. That might have something to do with Devi Bala, but I have a feeling that this was highly intentional. Sound plays an oh-so-important role in the first half, and each playful pat on the back, each crunch of someone biting into chips, each drop of a falling pencil on the floor is elevated and enhanced to put us in the shoes of the lead character, feeling his irritability as he gnashes his teeth through his daily sojourns.
And the background score? Gopi Sundar uses the adrenalin-pumping, traditional chenda melam(the percussion instrument you can’t miss at any Kerala temple) as a base and infuses rock, dubstep and a myriad of a few other genres to create a single, wild track that plays to unimaginably loud cheers from the audience. But by describing this, I’m probably doing a grave injustice as this is something that really, really needs to be experienced.
3. A lesson on turning flaws into pillars of strength
While his previous outing with Dulquer in Neelakasham Pachakakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi was accused of being overtly pseudo-philosophical, Sameer’s Kali is a complete U-turn in terms of content, theme, style…everything. Once again, he might face a few brickbats because this film has its own share of flaws. Inconsistent pacing, wafer-thin storyline, plot holes…there are quite a few weak points one can find during the film’s runtime. At the same time, this is the best part of Kali: Sameer uses these flaws to his own advantage, just like the use of sound as mentioned above. The inconsistent pacing is what builds so much tension, constantly keeping us guessing as to what’s going to happen next and how it’s going to end for Siddharth and Anjali(Sai Pallavi). The wafer-thin storyline is what makes the vision of the film so simple and unwavering. This is one film that doesn’t beg you to overlook its flaws, but to embrace them and probably justify them in your head the second time you watch it.
2. Probably Dulquer’s best performance…ever
With every little twitch on his face, with every tiny grind of his teeth, and with every momentary smile that makes its way to his face, sometimes fabricated, sometimes genuine, you feel that Dulquer Salman was born to play this role. No, scratch that.
You feel that Dulquer Salman is this role.
The ‘Angry Young Man’ persona might have been forged by Amitabh Bachchan in the 70’s, but it’s Dulquer, a rare breed of actor that keeps the flame burning. While I thought Ranbir’s performance in Tamasha was unmatchable in this sense, I found myself beaming with pride when this young man, a fellow-Malayali proved me wrong. It is a particularly complex character to play, as you have to force the audience to laugh as well as feel tensed anticipating when he’s going to explode. And to put it lightly, Dulquer nails it. No, he owns it.
1. Sai Pallavi, the girl Goddess next-door
It is one thing for a female actor to be remembered right in her first movie. It’s a bigger thing to make every man in the darkness of the theatre fall prey to your charms without the use of any extra make-up, skin show or the obligatory item number. While a lot of this could be attributed to Alphonse Puthren’s sincere characterization, what Sai Pallavi did with Malar is something that belongs to be etched in stone, so much that every third meme on Facebook has her face on it, and for all the right reasons. “‘Heroine’ is a word, ‘Malar’ is an emotion”, they say.
With all said and done, Premam is the past(while it’s still running in a few screens) and it’s a gargantuan task to live up to that. But when Sai Pallavi makes her appearance in one of the first few frames of the film, once again without any additional embellishments, crying and walking across a room, the audience goes absolutely crazy and cheers for their 21st century Goddess…for all the right reasons. However, the bigger responsibility is to sustain the same love after the initial cheers die out, and she does it with ease, proving that Malar was no flash-in-the-pan. In Kali, Sai Pallavi plays Anjali, who’s not a second fiddle to the hero, but a sweet, smart and strong-hearted companion and a pillar of support to an extremely-flawed male(such a rarity onscreen). Even when she’s playing the damsel-in-distress, she does it all on her own without simply succumbing to the throes of the villain. Anjali is a perfectly rounded, wonderfully written role that will correct you by making you refer to the actress as ‘Sai Pallavi’ and not ‘Malar’ from now on.
And when she makes her Tamil debut in Mani Sir’s film, I’ll be the first one waiting in line to buy a ticket.
Of course, there are many, many more reasons to watch Kali, and hopefully this piece would be another addition to that never-ending list. Buy your ticket with your eyes closed, watch it with your eyes and hearts wide open.
Written by Raunaq Mangottil