When director Andrew Louis tweeted on Thursday night that his latest film Kolaigaran is “loosely based on the Japanese novel The Devotion of Suspect X”, he was grossly understating the level of his inspiration (he later deleted the tweet).
Kolaigaran is a near-complete adaptation of the novel, custom-sized for the Tamil milieu and its general audience. Classic examples of this show up right at the beginning. A gruesome murder, gloomy opening credits, a menacing background score and police station stand-off between the protagonist and the antagonist… and then, strangely, a duet in a foreign country (why, why). For most of this song, the hero stands out of the heroine’s earshot and sings to himself, while she walks around flapping the ends of her clothes. If this song was meant to show us anything that could be called chemistry between Vijay Antony and Ashima Narwal, it fails miserably.
Thankfully, these troubles don’t last long after the first song and the (lack of) chemistry is not integral to the storyline. When we return from the song, the film launches into thriller mode and it gets better. Each plot twist is placed at rhythmic intervals so that one doesn’t get too bored. It retains a sense of mystery till the very end, with some ‘why’ questions answered only at the last minute. The film is taut, all of 2 hours and 2 minutes, and that helps.
Antony, who plays Prabhakaran, sleep-walks through the film with his signature stoic non-expression, which we grow to understand as that of a man brooding the loss of someone he loved. In that sense, Antony’s range of expressions is like a reverse akshaya patram — an empty vessel that the viewers themselves can fill with whatever they want, because he’s been repeatedly telling us that he doesn’t know how to act.
Arjun, who plays investigating officer Karthikeyan, does an adequate job. The film had the good sense of refraining from giving him a backstory and romantic arc as most Tamil films are wont to do.
However, the same can’t be said for the supporting characters: Nasser, perhaps reflecting the genius physicist from Higashino’s original, ends up being the kind of character who’s in the film just to ask the questions that viewers might be thinking of; Bagavathy Perumal has exactly two scenes of attempted comedy (both of them incidentally sexist); Ashima, who plays Dharani, the heroine, seems to know that the film is not about her and does the bare minimum. Sita, who plays her mother, does a fantastic job as the single parent who fears for the life and safety of her only daughter, though she’s underused.
The biggest strength of Kolaigaran is in laying out and connecting the dots of the mystery, which makes it a clever whodunnit. Some twists — like the one at the interval block — make you sit up, wanting more of that stuff. But the film falters in character development. In the first few minutes, there is a scene where two of Prabhakaran’s colleagues discuss his personality, after realising he’s on leave — he’s aloof and unapproachable, they spell out. If Vijay Anthony’s acting doesn’t tell us this, this dialogue surely will!
Dharani, on the other hand, seems incredibly naive. She doesn’t find it suspicious that her neighbour comes out of his door every single day at the exact same time as her. She even dismisses this alarming coincidence when her friend points it out. I would have given her the benefit of the doubt if the film hadn’t told us that it was being subjected to serious stalking and harassment that made her uproot her life and move to Chennai in the first place. And this is to say nothing of the stalking and eavesdropping that Prabhakaran does without adequate explanation.
The portions that draw generously from Keigo Higashino’s superhit thriller work spectacularly. But the elements that Andrew Louis adds on his own dampen the thrill. And the ‘why’ at the end is a perplexing coincidence in an otherwise believable film. The strange somersault in Karthikeyan’s character right at the end, shifting him from a policeman who believed his job was only to follow the law, doesn’t work either.
It is these changes from the source material that betray the value systems of Andrew Louis (and perhaps most Tamil filmmakers today)—be it about women’s issues, morality or the overreach of the police force.