‘Kaithi’ movie review: A terrific Karthi goes all guns blazing

‘Kaithi’: the kind of movie you would get when a star blindly trusts his director’s vision

‘Kaithi’: the kind of movie you would get when a star blindly trusts his director’s vision   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Lo and behold, this Karthi-Lokesh Kanagaraj joyride is by far the best action thriller in Tamil cinema since ‘Theeran Adhigaram Ondru’

How do you write an action-thriller without diluting our inner Kodambakkam emotions? There are two methods by which you construct your screenplay — a) restrict every trivial information thereby allowing the audience to partake in the proceedings and b) lay out your entire tactics and still make it engaging. The latter is the school of thought that Lokesh Kanagaraj subscribes to. The first 20 minutes of Kaithi is what you would get from a filmmaker who is not just grand with his ideas, but knows how to execute them. That, he does exceedingly well.

Lokesh establishes his premise, his principal characters, the tonality and setting within that duration, like an anxious school kid who is asked to recite poems amidst relatives. But there is not a single air of suspicion when it comes to his craft. With Kaithi, Lokesh tries to achieve what seems like a rare feat for Tamil filmmakers — to marry Western tropes along with masala sensibilities. It is about showing a character devouring ‘bucket’ biryani and handling a machine gun at the same time. Words like ‘bounty’, ‘ghost’ and ‘dog within’ are casually served as dialogues. The title, Kaithi, gently surfaces over a theme song, like a typical James Bond movie. That too, in English!

There is a lot happening in the first act — a little girl is awaiting a “visitor” at her orphanage, a team of police officers headed by Bejoy (a superb Narain from his Anjathey days) have busted a drug consignment, a group of some 50-odd ‘macho’ men are after the cops, and five teenagers are stuck in a police station (rreminiscent of Lokesh’s earlier film Maanagaram). Amidst all the chaos, there is a prison convict Dili (Karthi) who is dying to meet his daughter. But his hands are cuffed again. This time, for loyalty.

In his interview to MetroPlus, Lokesh said that Kaithi is based on a news article. It is this: a former prisoner comes to the rescue of drunken police officers. Dili’s helpless situation is akin to a fish out of water, as a character puts it. The idea may sound ridiculous on paper, but Lokesh takes it as a challenge and lends it a new spin.

  • Cast: Karthi, Narein and Dheena
  • Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
  • Storyline: A prison convict returns to normal life after 10 years and is just one dawn away from meeting his daughter, for the first time. What if he is handcuffed again?

The premise is a nod to Park Chan-Wook’s OldBoy — there too, a man returns to life and unleashes a beast within (there is a scene where Karthi takes a hammer and goes on a rampage). But Lokesh doesn’t reduce the movie to a revenge tale. It is more on the lines of Virumaandi and Die Hard (two movies Lokesh has credited), and plays with a ‘what if’ scenario. The latter because, what if McClane wanted to spend time with his daughter? To what extremes would he go? The former because, Kaithi picks up from where Virumaandi ended: yes, the sequence where Kamal, a life convict, takes the reins from Nasser, a wounded police officer. There is a Virumaandi-styled jail-break sequence here too. Speaking of Kamal, a character is intentionally named Stephen Raj (Vetri Vizha, anyone?).

The plot contains all the elements of a conventional suspense-thriller, but where Kaithi differs is by how Lokesh Kanagaraj treats the genre and its audience with respect. Take this scene for instance: when Dili listens to his daughter’s voice for the first time, the director cuts to an extreme close-up shot of his teary eyes. This comes as a pay-off later where Dili looks at his daughter’s photo and says, “She has my eyes.” There is no melodrama, but pure emotions. And your heart melts. The closer Dili gets to live his life, the farther he goes from his daughter. Karthi is just terrific as Dili. He carries the aura of a beast-about-to-explode, and vulnerabilities of a man who has lost a part of his soul.

Kaithi does have its ‘mass’ moments, but there is a certain level of screenwriting that has gone into conceiving those. For example, it has a brief lorry chase, eventually leading up to the interval stretch. Dili is surrounded by men on either side. Bejoy warns him. But he takes a pause, before saying, “You don’t know what I did before my prison term.” This is where Sam CS’ metal clanging background score plays, providing a wholesome visceral effect.


You could say Kaithi is one of those aesthetically-shot ‘mass’ movies (the cinematography is by Sathyan Sooryan, a human-pyramid like shot reminded me of Jallikattu), for not a single frame is wasted and has tonnes of camera movements. It is the kind of movie you would get when a star blindly trusts his director’s vision, with a producer to invest crores on it. I wasn’t too convinced when Lokesh tried knitting together Dili’s past life towards the end, when a character says, “It is personal.” Nevertheless, watch out for the climax sequence. It is literally blazing.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 9:45:17 PM |

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