Readers Write In #429: One prisoner, no dilemma: notes after watching Kaithi (2019)

Posted on December 2, 2021

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(by R Kailasham)

Prologue: “Dei, talking to you is like traveling on a time machine”, remarked my schoolfriend when I told her that I had just finished watching, for the first time, the 2007 movie, Deepavali, and that I especially liked how the first half of the movie is light and enjoyable without including an explicit comedy track. Why was I ready to invest time on a movie from that decade, but largely apathetic to Tamil cinema post-2012?I was, after all, an ardent follower and consumer of the fare from the 90s and 2Ks. Was it because of GV Prakash’s transition to acting? Maybe it was because how “dark comedy” became a thing following SoodhuKavvum and Jigarthandaand I could not fathom its appeal? Or perhaps it was due to the new comedians on the block whose performances did not linger in the memory the moment the movie finished? Was it the soul-numbing disillusionment wrought by witnessing one of my favorite directors, who gave “Mudhalvan” and “Gentleman”, come up with “I” ?Was it because of songs which were good to listen to but lyrics so convoluted that it was hard to sing along in the shower? Might be an interplay of one or more of the above factors. For sure, there are exceptions: I enjoyed “YennaiArindhaal”, and wished I had watched “Thani Oruvan” earlier, but I was largely aloof about most recent Kollywood offerings.

Thanksgiving holidays:At a suburban home 15 miles to the northwest of Hartford Union Station, Connecticut. A family gathered around the TV at 9 PM to decide which movie to watch. The members included my Mama (Uncle), Atthai (Aunt),cousin J, and yours truly. They asked which movie I wanted to see. I told them that they could choose pretty much any flick released over the past seven years, and there would be a good chance that I hadn’t seen it.

Hearing my response, they decided upon “Kaithi” (2019), even though they had already watched the movie twice. I had only ever watched the trailer of this picture.

In a way, the movie centres around two powders: there are thieves and cops engaged in the pursuit of 900 kilograms of cocaine, willing to transgress and bend all rules to get their hands on the cargo. Caught in the crossfire between these groups is Dilli (played by Karthi), a recently released convict who draws spiritual and emotional strength from a packet of vibhoothi. There are no non-believers in the movie. Almost every character acknowledges the power of either of the two powders.

“When agent Ethan Hunt pulls off such a stunt, we believe it. Why can’t we suspend our disbelief for Dilli?” asked Atthai and I had no intentions to argue. I had well and truly suspended my disbelief for the hero, whose constitution seemed to be made of adamantine, Thiruvaasagam and biryani.

George Maryan has been given a meaty role and does full justice. He has been around in Kollywood for a fair bit, and his performance as an English teacher in Madarasapattinam is what I readily associate him with. Until this movie, that is. His question, “Engineering padichuta ippdi kudichitu suthareenga?” is met by a snappy “Engineering padichanaala than ipdi kudikkarom”. Such repartees and one-liners pepper and enliven the screenplay, without ever watering down the seriousness of the battle that unfolds between the good guys and the bad. The exchanges between Dilli and the owner of the catering company as they swerve and avoid their pursuers in a lorry are also well-crafted.

There are two major assault weapons in the movie, and both are employed near the Commissioner’s Office: one, a Gatling gun that plays a crucial role in the climax of the movie, causing J (who was with his parents for the Thanksgiving holidays and had not seen the movie before) to exclaim that Kollywood has found its Schwarzenegger, and the other being the wink and a kiss lobbed by Thamizh in the direction of Chittu, seconds before the latter’s fate takes a gruesome turn.

Arjun Das puts in a menacing shift as the acting leader of a gang who is tasked with both the recovery of the drug cargo and the rescuing of his gang members from prison. Would he go the way of Jeevan, Daniel Balaji, and Arun Vijay? Time will tell.

Cameos by Chethan and Malvika Avinash, actors well-known from their stints in Tamil TV serials, provide another anchor-point for 90s kids.

Sam CS’ background score and Keba Jeremiah’s guitar ably support the progression of the story. The placement of the “Jumbalakka” soundtrack in the police station takes the cake.

Prologue:We sat around talking about the movie for nearly fifteen minutes after the end credits had rolled. Mama and Atthai remarked how the movie retained its grip in what was the third viewing for the two of them. I was happy to learn that the director is a Coimbatore lad. Was thrilled to learn that a sequel to the movie has been announced. I read whatever the Wiki page on the movie had to offer, before calling it a night.