Kaalakkoothu: Good performances in a predictable film with an oft-told message

It’s almost miraculous how actors can manage to raise the overall standard of a film when they truly believe in it. Prasanna, Kalaiyarasan, Dhansika, and Srushti Dange, all seem to be genuinely invested in director Nagarajan’s world, and it is this that makes a world of difference to this otherwise mediocre story with an age-old conflict at its heart. The performances, and the heart that Nagarajan has put into this story, almost conspire to salvage this predictably narrative, with an unimaginative third act.

Director: M Nagarajan
Cast: Prasanna, Kalaiyarasan, Dhansika, Srushti Dange

Simply looked at, it’s yet another story of friendship flavoured by a love story that runs into that familiar demon, caste trouble. The difference here though is that the two friends, Easwaran (Prasanna) and Hari (Kalaiyarasan), aren’t just defined by their friendship — Easwaran especially. He’s a person scarred by, and hence, scared of loss. It is this that forms the primal foundation of his friendship with Hari. Among the little details that add flavour to their relationship is the fact that they both share birthdays. It’s like these two men, born on the same day, are hurtling towards the same fate, hands held in friendship.

Easwaran’s fear of his close ones passing away means that he can’t even make an offhanded promise on the life of another. It means he’s scared of forming new bonds, lest they die. And that’s why Revathi (Srushti Dange) has to coax him into a relationship, as opposed to our usual boy-chases-girl narrative. I liked that Hari tells her that in case Easwaran refuses her advances, she must stop pursuing him. If only more of our heroes had such friends.

Hari, for his part, has a love angle too — as is usually the case in films featuring two male leads. You can almost hear the writer thinking, “Two leads. So, two love angles, and two separate duets.” Hari’s in love with Gayathri (Dhansika), and my most favourite moment in their relationship is when she comes back after a period of separation and attributes her staying away from him to ‘confusion’. It’s not hate, not anger, just confusion. It’s the sort of sensitivity that stops Kaala Koothu from being a big bore. Director Nagarajan sets up all these relationships painstakingly, and just when it’s all ripe for the third act to wreak havoc and test all these people collectively and individually, you get an uninventive conflict from familiar villains which plays out in much the same way as it has in similar films over the decades.

For a film that does so well with its moments, it’s a pity that the big picture is a bit of a washout. The tragedy here has little shock or surprise value, and you see it coming from a mile. Kaala Koothu needed something cleverer, something more imaginative, but in his earnestness to be content with telling the caste-is-bad message, Nagarajan fails to adequately explore the dynamics of the relationships he creates with such involvement. I wish some of our filmmakers realised that it’s okay just to stop with telling a good story — and that they can be told even without messages.

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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