Raj B Shetty’s Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana (GGVV, 2021) was a huge leap in his budding career; it displayed a radical shift in his filmmaking style. After making the light-hearted, self-deprecating comedy Ondu Motteya Kathe, Raj stunned everybody with a stylised cop versus criminal drama in his sophomore flick.
Now, calling it his first ‘mass’ film, he promises a novel experience with Toby. The results are interesting, though not entirely convincing.
Even if Basil Alachalakkal is credited as the director, Toby has the firm stamp of the filmmaker Raj, who wrote the film based on the story of T K Dayanand. He succeeds reasonably well in offering a different ‘masala’ film, and two scenes are testimony to that. Raj’s introduction is a formulaic idea, yet it looks stylish thanks to a subtle treatment. Similarly, the pre-interval fight sequence is superbly inventive, also laced with humour, doing complete justice to the tension preceding the scene.
However, the film’s intention to become a classic doesn’t bear fruit as it fails to strike an emotional chord. The stylised filmmaking in Toby feels like an extension of GGVV. But that film solely revolved around the highly fascinating character Shiva (essayed by Raj) and the consequences of his eccentric behaviour. In Toby, the titular character’s life is defined by his relationship with multiple people. And Raj’s writing plays second fiddle to the film’s stylised treatment, making it a cinematic experience albeit without a soul.
Set in Damaskatte, Toby (Raj) is a victim of a troubled childhood. He is mute and innocent, yet violent and dangerous. Having grown up in a remand home, his respect is reserved only for Father Iglesias, who nurtures and names him Tobia, meaning “God is good”. But Toby resembles a shaitan (devil) as he doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone who hurts his loved ones.
Raj writes his characters with a nice blend of contrasts and symbolism, and the script revolves around people often dismissed as outcasts in society. Toby works as an assistant to Damodara (a reliable Gopalakrishna Deshpande) in a mortuary. As someone who witnesses corpses on a daily basis, he decides to save a life by raising an abandoned girl child (Chaithra J Achar). Meanwhile, the town’s new sub-inspector is very different from the traditional idea of a cop; he is timid and a tad corrupt, taking pills to reduce his anxiety of using a gun.
Toby falls in love with a sex worker (a measured Samyukta Hornad). The presence of two important female characters in a Raj B Shetty film is a welcome change; he writes them with sensitivity as any contemporary filmmaker should. Chaithra is terrific as a daughter who imbibes the fearlessness of his father even as she grows up more sensible than him.
The film’s conflict begins when Toby becomes a pawn in the criminal world of Anand anna (Raj Deepak Shetty), who rises from being a meek local meat seller into a powerful man. The deliberate slow pace of the film is enhanced by Praveen Shriyan’s unhurried cinematography and Midhun Mukundan’s brooding score.
Raj feeds you with several clues, but unlike in GGVV, there are no terrific payoffs when he reveals his intentions. The film fails to fight its predictable storyline thanks to the lack of a single surprise element. In the last act, the aimless writing is evident when Raj dumbs down the intelligence of his protagonist. The smartness used in depicting violence earlier in the film paves the way for an utterly formulaic climax.
However, Raj is terrific in his portrayal of innocence, and the film does justice to his face (with several close-up shots), tailor-made for expressing rage and innate sadness. Toby is yet another exploration of filmmaking by the actor, who calls himself a student of the craft. He offers an experience, a dark one at that. That said, we are less in awe of it and more curious about his decisions.
Eventually, Toby leaves one with an empty feeling as we sense the effort put in to create a masterpiece; however, the outcome is far from organic.
Toby is currently running in theatres