Cast: Karthi, Narain, George Maryan
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
Once in a blue moon, a more-or-less sensible Tamil film pops out of the cans, and a Deepawali opener this year is one with actor Karthi playing a prisoner on parole. Karthi's career graph has been unsteady since his lovely rustic performance in his debut Paruthiveeran many years ago. But his latest, Kaithi (Prisoner), by writer-director Lokesh Kanagaraj, sees Karthi in a far more controlled form than some of his earlier outings. He has finally called it quits to some of his trademark mannerisms.
Kaithi plays at multiple levels. Karthi's Dilli is a murder convict out on parole to meet his 10-year-old daughter whom he has never seen. His wife is dead, and Kanagaraj keeps us at the edge of our seats till the very end. Will the father meet the daughter at all?
Call it coincidence or bad luck, Dilli finds himself a prisoner even on his parole, having to drive a huge truck at the command of a top cop, Bejoy (Narain) – who has laid his hands on a huge consignment of cocaine that he has hidden in the city police commissioner’s office. An injured Bejoy asks Dilli to drive him and his incapacitated men (whose drinks have been spiked by the drug mafia) to a hospital – and very quickly, if they are to be saved.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have the little girl, who has spent her life in an orphanage, waiting to meet that someone she has no clue about. She spends a restless, sleepless night wondering who is going to knock on her door.
And between these two points, we have a bunch of college students caught in the commissioner's office, a situation that turns trickier by the minute. For, they are under attack from the blood-thirsting mafia.
With the pack of drug pedlars not wanting Bejoy to reach his destination, and moving heaven and earth to stop that truck winding its way through thick jungles and in the darkness of the night, the film feels like a roller-coaster ride.
Kanagaraj could have done many things with a story of this kind that unfolds between dusk and dawn. One, he could have stopped Dilli from turning into a Goliath, taking on dozens of men and flattening them out. A typical crowd-puller to get Karthi's fans elated. Two, like much of Tamil cinema, scripting leaves a lot to be desired. I could never understand why the lone policeman in the station, essayed by George Maryan (with the others having run away), does not seek help from his fellow colleagues – instead choosing to fall back on the students to help him keep the station as well as the cocaine hidden in the basement safe.Honestly, Kaithi could have done without these mass movements.
However, Kanagaraj does step away from melodrama. Even the scene in which Dilli hears his daughter's voice for the first time over the phone has been handled with sensitivity, though the last frames may have well been lifted from a super hero movie.
I am going with three stars for Karthi's memorable piece of acting.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)