Kuttram 23 (K23) hits the ground running with a solid opening and intriguing premise. And for most of its 135 minutes of bloated running time, it holds up well and is engaging. But what could have been a taut edge-of-the-seat thriller is finally let down by some clumsy writing, wooden acting and amateurish sound mixing, thereby making it fall back into the staple mediocrity of mid-budget Tamil thrillers.
The plot follows ACP Vetri Maran (Arun Vijay) who is tasked with investigating the disappearance of a wealthy woman. This leads him to Thendral (Mahima Nambiar), a key witness who morphs into Vetri’s love interest. With the help of Thendral, Vetri uncovers a larger plot that involves a dead priest, artificial insemination and pregnant women dying under mysterious circumstances. The ingredients are all there to make a great midnight thriller but unfortunately writer/director Arivazhagan stuffs a needless love story and adds a strong scoop of family melodrama which takes away the potency of the film’s main narrative. Concurrently with the main plot, the family drama that takes place within K23, revolves around Vetri’s sister-in-law, Abhinaya (Abhinaya) trying to conceive and the societal and family pressures she faces. This side story mostly hampers the pace of the film though Arivazhagan manages to salvage it to a certain extent by threading it to the main plot down the line. The film almost completely forgets about Thendral (Mahima Nambiar) in the second half, which also leads to a weak and unsatisfying final act as it limps to its climax, running out of gas about 15 minutes before the lights go up.
Vetri Maran’s character is one dimensional and boring as every hurdle he faces is whipped away with ease. Arun Vijay has taken more than a page out of the Gautham Vasudev Menon cop archetype, complete with the polo shirts and the ‘kadaa‘ on his wrist. He doles out a stiff and uninteresting performance, in line with the dull character he was given to play. The character offers nothing dynamic for us to root for him. The constantly annoying shots of Maran’s bulging biceps and a preachy line or two doesn’t help either.
The cinematography by Bhaskaran AM serves as one of the stronger pillars of this film. K23 is a well shot and lit production, the opening scene in the church offering up a visual flair not common in Tamil films. The fight sequences attempt to be more realistic and natural, the songs thankfully are kept to a minimum but even the one romantic number present in the film seems unnecessary. The dubbing for the film is all over the place, which makes it hard to watch the actors and hampers their performances even further. A little more time in the ADR booth could have drastically increased the production quality of this film.
On the positive side, the film offers a refreshing perspective on the expectations of Indian brides from family and society. In that sense, K23 is a much needed progressive Tamil film. It’s pointed enough in its critique of the burdens and expectations placed on a bride’s shoulders in our patriarchal society, and that’s a welcome change in this industry. Unfortunately, it also takes some regressive steps in a familiar direction. I mean, how many times are we expected to root for a hero in our films when he ends up slapping a woman and doesn’t even have to acknowledge or face its consequences? Yes, that happens in this film as well.
Overall, Kuttram 23′s strongest suit is it’s interesting set-up and plot, which keeps your attention for the most part. But a leaner script would have served the film better. It’s also let down by substandard acting and pacing. If we’re grading on a curve, which we most often are in Tamil cinema, the film still offers enough thrills to think about maybe giving it a go.
Tamil, Action, Drama, Thriller, Color