A recently freed prisoner desperate to meet his daughter. A police officer eager to rid the state of a drug menace. A lowly constable stepping up when nobody else will. And students who are at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Kaithi, directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj offers a glimpse into just one night of the lives of four seemingly unrelated characters and soon unfolds the circumstances that have metaphorically imprisoned them all. From the word go, the action-thriller revels in a sense of tension, that remains constant through its run time.
Set in Trichy district, it starts with the struggles of Bejoy (played by Narain), a special task force officer who has seized drugs worth Rs.800 crore from devious smugglers, who will go to any lengths to retrieve their narcotics. Injured in the very first scene, he temporarily loses the ability to use one hand. But this is only a sign of the weakness that follows, as his colleagues fall prey to a plot hatched by the smugglers.
The director grips the audience with a sense of uncertainty as he cuts from the battered police in a guest house to the seething villains arming themselves with deadly weapons. A bounty has been placed on the officers involved in the drug bust and hundreds of thugs leave their hideout to claim their prize. And so, it is at Bejoy's and in turn the audiences' pinnacle of desperation, over 20 minutes into the film, that Dilli (Karthi) makes his first appearance.
With a 'pattai' on his forehead, and release papers in his pocket, he has just been released from prison and has no intention of getting into more trouble. He is on the way to find his daughter who has been for 10 years living in an orphanage. But for Bejoy, the life of an ex-convict and his daughter does not equal the lives of policemen. This disparity in the value of human lives, which is rarely discussed, is depicted with brutal honesty.
Bejoy then threatens Dilli, to work with him and from there ensues a journey of the two men, who are joined by a young lorry owner, all trapped by their own sense of duty.
The drugs themselves, the reason for conflict, are hidden in the Commissioner's office, an old British building. It is a lone police constable Napoleon ( George Maryan )and a gangly group of engineering students, detained for drunken driving who step up, when least expected.
With the premise set, the director then proceeds to puts you at the edge of your seat as the screenplay seamlessly switches from one group's struggle to another. Their individual fights culminating into a joint effort with every scene leaving you convinced that it could be the hero's last.
Except, this movie has no single hero. Sure, Dilli with his brute strength and acrobatic stunts may save his companions innumerable times. But Director Lokesh shows that a hero is anyone who goes beyond thinking about just himself. From Napoleon who stands as a lone man in the face of 30 thugs breaking into the commissioner's office to the lorry owner who attempts to protect the earring Dilli bought for his daughter, Kaithi endeavours to show the good that people are capable of even in the face of imminent danger.
Karthi has done a spectacular job with understated acting which shines more deeply when contrasted with the fights. He carries a sense of intensity in his eyes that changes with the scene. When he eats biryani for the first time after his release, his eyes smile as he looks towards the heavens, wordlessly expressing his emotion. When he comes up with a plan to scorch the thugs, a triumphant gleam fills his eyes, only to be replaced with tears as thoughts of his daughter plague him.
Narain as a cop torn between being good and doing his duty, brings the right amount of vulnerability to screen. George Maryan, though seen in so many Tamil films, proves his mettle in this movie as a true artist. As a 55-year-old cop, short in stature but large in heart, he endears himself through the film.
Credit must be given to cinematographer Sathyan Sooryan for the stunning visuals, all presented with unnatural lights, to maintain the essence of a journey through one night. The shot of Napoleon standing alone in a room covered in government documents, waiting for an attack, told a story by itself. And Sam CS, while not given an opportunity to belt a romantic number or opening song, still makes his presence felt with music that makes your heart race. The one complaint though would be that the second half dragged itself out with fight sequences that just wouldn't end. The constant violence begins to tire you out in the last mile.
Dheena, who plays the lorry driver Kamatchi, is for the major part, the only comic relief in the film. He tells Dilli while seated in the truck that much has changed since he went to jail - from the rampant use of social media, to Thala and Thalaivar films releasing together and finally to only films with a story actually working.
Considering that Kaithi released with Vijay-starrer Bigil, this line seems to have almost predicted the future for the film and the part about only a good story working? Well, the film proves this to be true.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.