Like all Keralites, I grew up on a staple of great Malayalam movies with intelligent, realistic and often funny storylines without much of masala. Around the time I was in college, the good movies dried up. Over time as distance from the homeland (‘naadu’) grew, I gave up watching Malayalam movies altogether after I saw the Dileep starrer ‘Spanish Masala’ on a bus to Kerala. Dileep is the actor who was recently arrested for the alleged kidnap and assault of a popular actress but honestly he should have been jailed years ago for that movie. I could not connect to any of the stories being shown on screen anymore. The storylines sucked, the actors were old and desperate to seem young and there were too many slow motion shots. As time went by I started hearing about good Malayalam movies with new actors, writers and directors but I didn’t really believe it till I saw Dulqar’s ‘Ustad Hotel’ on DVD. Finally there was a movie that spoke to me. It had a young actor who carried off the role effortlessly without overacting, fantastic visuals and music and a story about a departed son of the soil finding home again that spoke to most of us who had left Kerala in search of education or jobs. After that I found that the Malayalam film industry was back to making topical movies again. I’m still somewhat behind and have a lot of good movies on my watch-list that I haven’t got to yet. Kali was somewhere way down that list but when a Maharashtrian in office started telling me, a mallu to watch this nice Malayalam thriller, I decided it is shameful not to. It turned out to be one of the better movies I have seen recently across languages.
Kali is not one of those movies that will make a lot of money or get talked about a lot like ‘Premam’. It has no songs and isn’t that glamorous or much of a rabble rouser, in spite of the name. It is however a fantastic thriller which really makes you totter on the edge of your seat at times. But first and foremost, this movie has a very important message for an audience that is used to movies glorifying anger and reckless ‘heroism’. Most of our movies, no matter which language shows the usual trope of a righteously angry hero losing his temper and rushing to face the villains without giving a damn about being outgunned or outnumbered. The heroine will gasp and look all worried at first but then the expression on her face along with that of all spectators on both sides of the screen will change to awe. This ideal of masculinity is what we have been sold for years and years and a surprising number of people believe it. If someone wrongs you or your girl when you’re out, what’s the first thing you’re supposed to do? Guage the situation and surroundings? Or lose your head and get ready for a fight? How many of us will admit that it might be better to guage the situation first? Are we men if we do not react? Hell, even while writing this I’m wondering if someone will misunderstand and think that I am a coward or that I’m advocating cowardice. Advocating caution and prudence just does not work as this is the first thing in everybody’s head (including yours) when you do, which is exactly why you need more stories like the one in ‘Kali’.
The movie starts off with two scenes showing characters giving in to pure rage, one of which features Siddharth (Dulqar) in college. Just like every other movie we have seen, he comes out on top and everyone seems suitably impressed. However the story quickly moves on. Siddharth (Dulqar) and Anjali (Sai Pallavi of ‘Premam’ fame) get out of college and start a life together. That’s where your usual campus movie ends. The plot of this one quickly crosses into what should have been the happily ever after and starts showing us how its not that easy to go from campus hero to being a family man or holding a job. Sidhharth gets a job as a cashier at a bank and his enemies switch from rival gangs in college to a loud printer behind his desk and a co-worker whose method of greeting is a slightly too strong clap on the back. Irrational customers force him to go to the restroom and snarl at the mirror once in a while. You might be thinking you’ve seen this before in movies and so have I but in those movies, the guy was always shown as some kind of undercover hero. That he’s acting like an everyman, like Superman pretending to be Clark Kent. That he and we both know that his time will come soon but in the meantime look how cute it is to see him pretend to be a pussycat. Thankfully this movie does away with that cliche and shows how the quick temper that made him top dog in college is now a liability that threatens his job and future. His wife is constantly reminding him of the need to stay in control, in spite of his occasional snaps at her. One day however, he snaps a little too much and they have a falling out which leads to a road trip and a stop at a shady restaurant because there’s nothing else on the way at that time in the night.
Coincidentally, this restaurant was where the other exhibition of rage by a different character was shown in the beginning of the movie. The villain (though not completely) is still there and this is his turf. Siddharth no longer has a turf since he left college, but he’s still the same person, habituated to flying off the handle. This uncomfortable setting for the lead character is where the movie explores the consequences of ‘kali’. What do you do if your anger puts your wife in danger instead of saving her from the bad guys like the usual cliche? What if your anger was the trigger for the whole situation to develop in the first place? What if you’re matched with similar rage on the other side, outnumbered and the cavalry isn’t coming? Is righteous anger a virtue if it puts other people at risk?
The dose of reality Siddharth gets is what the movie gives for this genre as a whole and for the audience. Instead of the usual star struck, admiring heroine, Sai Pallavi gives a terrifyingly real portayal of a woman forced to deal with the consequences of her husband’s actions without his help and far away from him, which is what really chills you. The series of events that lead to this predicament is so plausible that you will think about it the next time you go on a road trip. Next time you get into an argument over a fly in your juice and 20 rupees wrongly charged in a bill, maybe images from this movie in your head will help you judge the surroundings and weigh it against the real costs.
It definitely was an educational experience for me.
Note: Available on Hotstar with subtitles, or you can get the DVD for around Rs. 120