Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Release date:
Kerala: August 8, 2019
Delhi: August 9, 2019
Praveen Prabharam

Tovino Thomas, Samyuktha Menon, Saiju Kurup, Hareesh Uthaman, K.P.A.C. Lalitha, Shivajith Padmanabhan

As if it isn’t heartbreaking enough that Nivin Pauly did that obnoxious film Mikhael this year, Tovino Thomas goes and does this one.

To be fair, Mikhael’s loudness is child’s play in comparison with Kalki’s repugnant celebration of extreme violence. This is a film that uses crushed bones, twisted joints and sliced off body parts as a tool for both humour and moralising, in what must rank as one of the most disgusting cinematic odes to bloodshed ever seen.

Imagine what Kalki must be if one of the dominant motifs in its sound design is the gurgling and bubbling of blood just as it begins to pour out of bodies ripped apart by various characters including the ‘hero’.

Imagine this moment, designed as comedy, when a policeman with a sobre demeanour carries a blood-spattered chainsaw to this ‘hero’, explains that one of the villain’s legs has now been cut off and asks permission to cut off the second leg too since they are paying rent for the tool anyway. The boss gives his assent.

If that ‘hero’ had been played by Mammootty or Mohanlal, perhaps one could live with it. After all, the two M’s have allowed their careers to rest largely on ugly machismo and physical invincibility in the past couple of decades. The disappointment here arises from the fact that the protagonist is young Tovino Thomas whose stardom has been built primarily with thoughtful films like Godha, Mayaanadhi, Virus and Luca.

In a town called Nanchenkotta in Kalki, an upright policeman called Vyshakhan commits suicide, unable to take the humiliation meted out by the criminal overlord Amarnath and his flunkeys who rule the region. Amarnath has ties to the senior politician Vijayanandhan whose extremist party DYP has driven out the Tamils in the area. With elections approaching and alliances being sewed up, all lines are crossed until a new S.I. takes Vyshakhan’s seat. Played by Thomas, this policeman remains unnamed till the end, identified simply as K on his badge and nameplate and as Kalki by the soundtrack.

You get an idea of where this film is headed in his introductory scene when he sets a hooligan on fire while a signature song is screeched out in the background. This is the sort of raucous number packed with silly English lines that a certain kind of Malayalam filmmaker seems to think is a signifier of super coolth.

Like Mikhael’s laughable referencing of Christian mythology, Kalki too takes a shot at intellectualism. So of course the title comes from the name of the tenth and final avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu: the swordsman Kalki who is expected to descend on the world to end Kalyug, a dismal, destructive phase of human existence. There is potential for such great storytelling with a modern-day interpretation of Kalki, but writer-director Praveen Prabharam (who has co-written this film with Sujin Sujathan) is not one for nuance and deep thought. And so his Kalki is so bloody and lawless that the only distinction between Amarnath’s gang and him is that he stands with a marginalised people, the laudable ends being offered as justification for his condemnable means. If cinema reflects reality, then Kalki is a reflection of a real-life Kalyug that upholds a 56-inch male chest as a virtue.

In one scene, K virtually lists as a plus point in his favour the fact that he is in the home of one of his enemies but has not raped the women of the family. This is Prabharam’s version of Ishq’s horrifying second half.

As is the case with male actors in all such Malayalam films, Tovino Thomas deadpans and poses around throughout Kalki. So do all the men playing the antagonists. The only actor who gets something out of this script is Saiju Kurup in the role of an idealist.

The lovely Samyuktha Menon has not much to do here. She appears to have been cast in the role of K’s bete noir’s daughter only because her pairing with Thomas in Theevandi drew acclaim. From the little that we see of her Dr Sangeetha, she seems like a feisty creature, but we get to see so little. The women of this film are mere sidelights in a man’s world.

Everyone in Kalki is relegated to the background as K / Thomas strides across the screen framed in stereotypical low-angle shots, playing with his Ray-Bans, the earth stopping to listen to the crunching sound of his slippers touching the ground, all while ear-splitting music overwhelms the narrative.

Even K is not the central figure of this film though. The central figure is DoP Gautham Sankar who captures in excruciating detail Amarnath stabbing his first victim and ripping his torso by dragging the dagger all the way down to the stomach in an action that we soon discover is his MO, a meat cleaver severing a man’s nose, a head being smashed against a metal pillar, and more.

You too, Tovino Thomas?

Rating (out of five stars): 1/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
141 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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