K-13, Barath Neelakantan’s film starring Arulnithi and Shraddha Srinath, wants to be a writer’s soliloquy. Mathiyazhagan, the character played by Arulnithi, is an aspiring filmmaker stuck for ideas. So is Shraddha’s Malarvizhi, a novelist. As artists who love their art — they talk repeatedly about their cinema mela kadhal and ezhutthin mela kadhal (love for cinema and love for writing) — they decide to go the extra mile for inspiration. The details of this endeavour form the film.
As far as the premise goes, K-13 shows promise. The set-up is one of the best in recent Tamil thriller memory (or perhaps I’m just glad that there is no meet-cute-song-dance routine that wastes the first act of most Tamil films in general). The film unravels slowly, as a trapped and tied-up Mathiyazhagan recalls the events of the previous night.
This part of the film happens almost entirely within four walls. Arulnithi does an immaculate job, acting just enough, never letting his ‘performance’ distract us from the story. Sam CS, the film’s music director, shows similar restraint, his music lingering in the background, supporting the story when needed. The staging is also just right, never too claustrophobic, yet never letting us forget the boundaries, both literally and metaphorically. The interval block is a nice outside-in view of everything we’ve been seeing within a gloomy enclosure.
When we return after the interval, the knots of mystery untie themselves one by one and unfortunately, a sense of doom sinks in. As we learn why each person is doing what they’re doing, the film’s sense of mystery and cleverness diminish significantly. The set-up that seemed fresh and engaging now proves itself inadequate, perhaps because the film has all along focused less on the characters and more on the situations to hold our interest.
We hardly know Mathi or Malar enough to empathise with their actions. We haven’t seen them do or feel anything, just heard them talk. They talk endlessly about “writer’s block”, their lack of ideas, inability to write, loneliness and her guilt, but hardly do we see them actually discuss any concrete ideas or even write. In fact, their conversations are so vapid, I longed for them to be over.
What we know of Mathi is through the unimaginative scenes about his life as an assistant director. Mathi’s room is filled with film posters, there’s even a scene about his love for The Shining, with a poster of Jack Nicholson to boot. His friends talk about his love for ‘serious cinema’ and we just have to take their word for it.
Malar’s characterisation is worse. She seems to be living with and willing to die of guilt for something every single writer does in every one of their works — drawing from the real-life experiences of people around them. In the effort to keep up suspense and make Malar mysterious, Shraddha Srinath ends up looking distant and soulless. Her acting itself is nothing to write home about.
So, when we meet them, strictly going by what the film tells us, they are two people struggling to write, that’s all. Their reasons come across mostly as self-aggrandisation.
And unfortunately, the movie itself suffers from this same problem. K-13 wants to be about many things. It wants to be a meta-film about filmmaking, but it doesn’t give any new insights into the lives of those in cinema: all we get are abandoned films, screaming directors and superstitious film producers. It has an angle about depression, but one that’s so flimsy and convenient, it hardly makes an impact. It wants to be about inspiration and fiction based on true stories, but it tells this meta message with a pinch too much of salt. It wants to be a film about love for the arts, but it doesn’t show much love at all and ends up being about the artist’s love for oneself.
It also wants to say the right things: There is a scene where Mathi leans over to kiss Malar. She pushes him away and he apologises. He says, “I’m sorry, I’m so high….” cuts himself short and says, “I’m sorry” with an air of completion to it. The film wants us to know that it thinks being drunk is no excuse for sexual harassment. Yet, it ends in a manner that shows this up as posturing.
K-13 is interesting in parts. Some of its themes can even make for engaging conversations. But mostly, it comes across as a vacuous idea that desperately wants to seem like a deep thought.