There's your truth, my truth and then there's the manufactured truth. With Kerala's Mangalam TV and its distasteful, unethical acts (which have set a new low for journalism) fresh in my mind, Kavan starring Vijay Sethupathi and Madonna Sebastian got me interested with its premise.
Tamil films have for long berated the media for running after TRPs and not covering "real issues" (not that the said films have bothered to deal with them beyond using them as pegs for the hero), so KV Anand's story about a group of young and idealistic journalists showed promise. However, he squanders away the opportunity with a weak storyline, poor characterisation, and forced comedy.
Anand's earlier film Ko which also dealt with journalism was smaller in its ambition and therefore more effective. With Kavan, one wonders if the director has bitten off more than he can chew. The film attempts to critique the big bad world of TV journalism but much of this world is depicted from such an outsider perspective that it simply doesn't look genuine.
The prime reason for this is the villain, a media honcho called Kalyan played by Akashdeep Saigal (who also featured in KV Anand's Ayan). Isn't it enough that we're already importing enough North Indian heroines who cannot speak a word of Tamil and look clueless on screen? Must we do the same with villains, too? This is not a question that comes out of jingoism but pure despair at having to put up with a character who has a pivotal role but is little more than a marionette on screen.
The only time Kalyan is remotely watchable is when he flips his hair in competition with T Rajendar who appears as the owner of another TV channel (a noble one..erm).
Vijay Sethupathi as Thilak is funny and entertaining as he is in most of his films. It's hard to dislike him even if the film itself doesn't work. Madonna Sebastian who worked up such good chemistry with VS in Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum suffers with a poorly written character who has nothing much to do other than run around looking busy with a camera. Every time she opens her mouth to give a suggestion, Thilak shuts her up with his brilliance and that's that.
The rest of the characters leave little impact as the film cannot make up its mind about the story it wants to tell. There are too many threads which try to capitalise on the current political mood in the state - a company which sucks dry a local water body (a tractor shown at a protest that breaks out has the image of a bull in front), a corrupt politician who eats mixture and gets drunk (this one is a collage), some misplaced outraging on sexual violence (the film persistently calls rape by the heavily patriarchal term "kedukardhu" or "spoiling" a woman), Islamophobia and so on.
TR as Mayilvahanan elicits some laughter being TR. We have the pleasure of listening to treasures from his earlier films - vaada yen machi vaazhaka bajji and such like. Powerstar makes an appearance as himself, and it's a bit of an irony that he's depicted as a "genuine" person in contrast with the fakeness of the media world when anyone who's followed the news would know he isn't as vanilla as the film projects him to be.
The "deviousness" of Kalyan and his unethical team spins out in the most obvious ways - reality TV shows are fixed, a rape victim is turned into a patient with mental illness, a talk show is really a scripted production to boost a corrupt politician and so on. At one point, we're shown a shot of Arnab Goswami outraging on TV in case we've forgotten him already. Not that none of these manipulations happen in real life but there's no tension or conflict built into this zebra script where there's only black and white.
With its surface level politics and underdeveloped characters, Kavan is a wasted opportunity.