In last week's release And the Oskar Goes To, Tovino played a self-effacing filmmaker who is hesitant to assert himself, even to grab a plate of food. In Luca too, he's an artist - but of the temperamental, wildly impulsive sort. Despite the slew of films that the actor has signed in the recent past, he's managed to stay versatile without allowing viewer fatigue to set in. In Arun Bose's debut directorial (co-written with Mridul George), a slow-paced investigative thriller that admirably blends romance and mystery with a few hiccups, Tovino once again demonstrates his willingness to let the script be the hero.
The first romantic duet in Luca, for instance, is not between Tovino and the female lead Ahaana Krishna, but a police officer and his former girlfriend. Unthinkable in most mainstream films for supporting actors to get so much prominence.
It's Akbar's (Nithin George, who looks like he was built for cop roles) day off, but he's still come by to take a look at the crime scene at the suggestion of his superior. His job done, he calls his wife Fathima (Vinitha Koshy) and tells her to get ready. We assume they're going for a wedding or some such family event. But no, they're going to a lawyer to discuss their impending divorce. There are many such moments in Luca, where the script catches you by surprise. Little variations from established routine that are refreshing. Which is why, when some aspects of the plot fall into predictability, it's harder to forgive.
Tovino plays Luca, a flamboyant artist with a dark past. He runs into Niharika (Ahaana Krishna in a role that proves she's here to stay) at the Kochi Biennale, where he overhears her making unflattering remarks about the installations on display. The young woman with owlish glasses is doing her research in industrial chemistry, and has little patience for the assembled scrap that's hailed as art in the exhibition. In a classic case of opposites attract, Luca and Niha get together. Though Luca's world is pretty much on expected lines of an "artist" (there's colour and chaos everywhere), Niha springs a few surprises. The easy camaraderie between the two as they squabble, make up and begin to trust each other with their deepest secrets, mirrors the early phase of real life relationships when every emotion is keenly felt.
The two story arcs - that of the investigating officer and the couple in love - intersect and we follow both with equal interest (slick editing by Nikhil Venu). The happy, energetic frames employed for Luca and Niha's story is in sharp contrast to the clouded and rainy ones for the police officer's (the skies are clear only in the end, when he's solved the case and resolved his personal problems), suggesting the state of mind of the protagonists involved. The makers have paid attention to every little detail - even Akbar's cat has a back-story, and the kitten in that portion looks exactly like the grown-up version!
Like an old-fashioned whodunnit, Luca throws a few red herrings at the audience for the possible identity of the murderer. However, it's also old-fashioned in how it romanticises certain things - love and the dubious decisions people sometimes take because of it. Niha, for example, comes across as a strong young woman who has confronted her disturbing past. She's also shown to care for her mother, a single parent, to the extent of staying silent about certain uncomfortable truths. One can't help but feel that the choices she makes in the film, therefore, are not consistent with how the character has been built up. Though Niha receives almost the same importance as Luca (who is something of a man-child), it does seem in retrospect that her character was written rather conveniently to tie up the loose ends of the plot
The film can also seems slow and repetitive at times, especially in the second half. However, the details we may have dismissed as irrelevant come together in the end, and you realise that the director was not being merely indulgent in those moments. The final resolution of the case feels a bit rushed, the answer coming from unexpected quarters in a matter of minutes.
That said, Luca does keep you guessing till the very end and if it had been pruned of some distractions (the number of issues piled on its leading man, for example), it would have made for an even more gripping thriller.
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.