If Kasaba proved something, it’s the fact that Nithin Renji Panicker and his father aren’t the same when it comes to writing. His scripts don’t have the penetrating sharpness or earth-shattering rage that characterised many of his father’s scripts. His new film, Kaaval, further proves that point. But here’s the best thing about it: It’s a much better film than Kasaba. It’s a remarkable improvement.
It’s the work of a hopefully more mature and refined filmmaker who has had a better understanding of his shortcomings. One thing that works in the film’s favour is its solid emotional grounding—a quality that can be off-putting for anyone who expects from Kaaval a Lelam or Vazhunnor or Commissioner. It’s one of the film’s several pleasing qualities. But is that enough, though?
I’m not sure if I would call Kaaval Suresh Gopi’s ‘comeback’ film. But it certainly shows that the superstar has still got it, not only during fierce combat but also his relatively sober moments. As Thampan, he gets his fair share of ‘mass’ moments, but when one takes into account the fact that he did these things way better in the early 90s, Kaaval ends up looking like Malayalam cinema’s answer to The Expendables—except that in this case, it’s just one man.
Renji Panicker is quite good as Antony, his most trusted buddy who has fallen on hard times owing to something that’s explained through a flashback. But this is, ultimately, a Suresh Gopi show. It’s heartening to see the actor sharing the screen with someone responsible for hugely contributing to the former’s stardom. The two deserve credit for holding the film together even when lethargy seems to creep in a few places.
I liked that Nithin didn’t write Thampan as a larger-than-life figure—that would look unrealistic given his age —and instead, as someone who can be vulnerable in the moments where he is not walking with his head held high or beating up multiple goons. Much of the emotional heavy-lifting comes from his bond with Antony and his children (Evan Anil and Rachel David).
That said, Kaaval is not without its fiery moments. The presence of nasty bad guys who don’t have any qualms about stooping so low as to intimidate or sexually threaten women makes sure of that. Playing Thampan and Antony’s opponents are Jubil Rajan P Dev, Kichu Tellus, Shanker Ramakrishnan, and Suresh Krishna. There is one more, but I’m not spoiling the surprise. But I can’t help but say that despite their blood-boiling antics, these guys don’t bring anything new to the table.
They seem like ‘remakes’ of characters we have seen many times before. Take Suresh Krishna’s planter character, for example. He merely resembles an older version of the bad guy he played twenty years ago in Karumadikuttan. The action sequences aren’t too effective either. Besides, the ‘investigative thriller’ territory that the film enters in the third act seems forced and diminishes some of its energy.
Kaaval is the closer that Nithin got to making a Joshiy film. Its spirit is reminiscent of Kauravar in some places and Lelam in others. It also reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, in that they both are essentially about people who used to be legends at one point but are now leading a quiet existence until an incident pulls them back into a life they had left behind.
But despite a couple of brilliant flourishes—an allegorical scene with a flock of chickens and a focus-shifting moment with a wall-mounted photograph— Kaaval never comes close to achieving their greatness or myth-making quality. There were times when I kept wondering whether it was supposed to be a much bigger film than what it is now. But, hey, as I said before, I’m glad to see that Suresh Gopi has still got it.
Director: Nithin Renji Panicker
Cast: Suresh Gopi, Renji Panicker, Rachel David, Evan Anil
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