In the recent past, Tamil cinema saw a spate of films set against rugged terrains in and around Madurai, where its characters pulled off realistic and many a time uncomfortable situations with panache. The prominent among them were Paruthi Veeran (dubbed as Malligadu in Telugu) and Subramaniapuram (dubbed as Ananthapuram 1980 in Telugu), which in a way inspired filmmaker Anurag Kashyap to make Gangs of Wasseypur. In its setting and styling, director Sri Prawin’s Kaalicharan seems inspired by this wave of re-discovering rural and semi-urban landscapes, its people and politics.
There are a few staples in this category of films — unkempt faces, a lawless land, demure but quietly confident women and above all a story telling that blurs the differentiation between mainstream cinema and independent, parallel cinema.
Kaalicharan has quite a few of these staples. Going by the milieu, it’s set in the 80s. We know it’s going to be an unapologetic gangster flick when the film opens with an intimate scene involving the antagonist Pasupathy (Pankaj Kesri) and his mistress (played by Kavita Srinivasan), followed by a sequence underlining how ruthless Pasupathy can be in wiping out his potential political opponent.
Soon, the brother of the mistress suffers a near-fatal blow from Kaalicharan (Chaitanya Krishna), who is swiftly nabbed by cops who try to finish him off in the police station with the help of other goons. Kaalicharan survives, gets bail with the help of Rao Ramesh, who sets him free only to stoke and channelise his anger and pit him against Pasupathy in the coming elections.
Sri Prawin has a gritty plot and a remarkable set of actors from whom he extracts convincing performances. Chaitanya Krishna is brooding, vengeful and vulnerable all at once. The demure yet assured Teerta (Chandni) is expressive and offsets Kaalicharan’s aggression. Be it the menacing Pankaj Kesari or the ever-dependable Nagineedu or other actors who appear in smaller roles, each one makes an impression. As the annoying and manipulative mistress, Kavita makes a mark. It’s the credible performance from these actors, coupled with apt cinematography (Vishwa Devabattula) that takes viewers into the nooks and crannies of the village that makes us stay glued to the screen even when we feel like turning away to avoid a bloody scene of crime. A few surprises come in early and we are eager to see where the story is headed.
But the film takes a long detour to establish the background of the enmity between Kaalicharan and Pasupathy. There are hints earlier on. When Kaalicharan blames his father Nagineedu for being a stickler to ethics and not signing a crucial document that could have saved his younger sister, you suspect a Bharateeyudu (the Telugu version of Shankar’s Indian) kind of a back story. What unfolds is similar in treatment though different in content. The film lingers more than necessary on this flashback instead of exploring the political drama between Rao Ramesh, Pasupathy and Kaalicharan.
By the time the film is back on track, it seems like we’ve endured a lot of gore, both in terms of what is shown and what is conveyed through dialogues and symbolic shots. It may be argued that some mainstream commercial movies have far more violent stunts. But how many of those do we take seriously? In a film that attempts to be realistic, a few significant shots are enough to convey the brutality and after a point we wonder if all this becomes voyeuristic. For instance, Kaalicharan leaves you numb in its treatment of rape and the harassment that follows.
Music by Nandan Raj is an asset. Melodious and lilting in romance and ominous otherwise, the music blends with the proceedings.
The film feels like a cocktail of Subramaniapuram, Rakhta Charitra and Bharateeyudu. There’s also a faint reference or inspiration from Thalapathy in the brief conversation between Kaalicharan and Teerta’s father.
While it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker explore a new format and show courage in not introducing force-fit commercial elements, it’s a pity when a good attempt is letdown by tiresome narration.
Cast: Krishna Chaitanya, Chandni and Pankaj Kesari
Director: Sri Prawin
Music: Nandan Raj
Bottomline: A reasonably good story and premise gets drowned in a gore fest. Not for the faint hearted.