Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Kaduva is a typical male-focused commercial Malayalam film – overstretched, cliche, and fixated on proving the superhuman strength of a male protagonist.
The ancient Chinese may have built the Great Wall of China, but could they have kept theirs? mouth through a full fledged fight scene in a Malayalam film?
The 8th wonder of the world that hasn’t received the global attention it deserves is this mouth, the white/cream sarong-like garment of southern India. As a kid born and raised in the north, I spent my summer holidays in Kerala and wondered how to do it mouth worn by Malaysian men do not fall off as they do not wear petticoats underneath. When I finally inquired I was told that some men use belts to secure themselves mouth around the waist, but some – hold your breath! – Not. Around 20,000 workers were needed to complete the Taj Mahal. It takes a Malayali hero to keep his mundu intact while bashing dozens of opponents in multiple confrontations over the 2 hours and 35 minutes Kaduwa (Tiger).
OK, don’t be mad at me. You’re right – I’m reckless. But to be honest (to me) how is it possible to seriously criticize a film where the sound of a big cat growling in the background is the lead actor’s signature, he keeps posing – Pulimuruganstyle – like a cat perched on the ground ready to pounce on its prey, his swagger ranges from his gait to his mannered speech, and he soars through the air while knocking down his enemies ?
Kaduwa Directed by Shaji Kailas – blockbuster machine of the 1990s and early 2000s – and written by Jinu V. Abraham. It is a typical male-focused Malayalam commercial film with a fixation on establishing a male protagonist’s superhuman strength and prowess.
This story runs in the background, overshadowed by fisticuffs and speeches. Two powerful parishioners clash at a church in Kerala. One is a wealthy businessman, Kaduvakunnel Kuriyaachan aka Kaduva played by Prithviraj Sukumaran. The other is a politically well-connected senior cop, Joseph Chandy, played by a not exceptional Vivek Oberoi, whose career in Malayalam cinema seems poised to rekindle, having more or less fizzled out of Bollywood.
Kuriyaachan’s habits are the subject of local lore: he drives a Mercedes, smokes cigars, wears only clothes mouth and white kurtas. He is also feared for his track record of violently disciplining wrongdoers. He fights his way through much of the storyline, but we know he’ll ultimately outsmart his enemies because he’s the hero and this is that kind of predictable movie.
The plot doesn’t matter here. Instead, long – oh sooo long! – sections of Kuriyaachan beating up groups of men, often in slow motion; Kuriyaachan walks in slow motion; Kuriyaachan delivers terrific dialogue that seems to have him speaking in slow motion; Low angle shots of Kuriyaachan sitting on the hood of a vehicle and crossing his legs in slow motion; Close-ups of Kuriyaachan’s eyes going through the natural blinking process, which feels like slow motion; Close-up shots of Kuriyaachan’s hand with a ring topped by a tiger sculpt as he clenches his fist in (guess what?) slow motion.
Just to be clear, movies with impossible action and a side story can be fun. But not when stunt choreography is recycled from umpteen other films and the same limited inventory is looped throughout, as in Kaduwa.
The media reported that Kaduwa is based on a true story of a businessman in Kerala who went to court accusing the film of possibly defaming him. A life that inspires a movie must have been exciting, sure, but Kaduwa is only occasionally. For the most part it’s cliche, overly dependent on Prithviraj’s screen presence, has no time for women, and is full of talented actors like Samyuktha Menon with next to nothing to do. The film could also serve as a template for a panty museum as the villain mouth-Clothed villain is thrown in the air or thrown to the ground in positions that showcase his knickers.
That said Kaduwa is far from the worst we’ve seen of this cinematic genre in various Indian languages, or Malayalam in particular. Kuriyaachan, for example, does not equate sexual harassment with courtship and does not treat women as property. Kaduwa is loud but not deafening, and its all-pervasive combat is surprisingly not savage and gory.
Given that Kaduwa would have deserved the label “harmless” were it not for a passage in which the hero, ostensibly a devout Christian, declares that he does not believe in the New Testament of the Bible and prefers the “eye for an eye” dictum of the Old Testament. Christianity stems from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament, where he is quoted as saying, among other things: “Ye have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you: do not resist evil. But if someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek.” This passage in the Bible greatly inspired Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of ahimsa (nonviolence). At a time when mob violence is openly encouraged by Indian politicians, such a statement from a popular star playing a hero, not an antihero, cannot be taken lightly.
If it weren’t for that Kaduwa could have been viewed as a benign, mass-oriented tariff. Notwithstanding the many passages of tedium, there are a few spots where I laughed out loud at the filmmaker’s audacity to portray such improbabilities with conviction, and at Prithviraj’s ability to pull off such over-the-top dialogue and straight-faced gestures. It’s also hard not to get carried away by Jake Bejoy’s infectious energy Pala Palli Thiruppalli to which Kuriyaachan and a huge crowd dance with gay devotion at a large church festival spectacularly captured by Abinandhan Ramanujam.
Some parts of Kaduwa are even unintentionally amusing or insightful. Like the discussion among senior clergy about giving a defaulting priest a punitive post in Uttar Pradesh or elsewhere in northern India. Take that for all those in the North who see transfers to the Northeast as the government’s ultimate reprimand for a misguided, dishonest bureaucrat. Ha!
There’s a lot of physical activity in there Kaduwa – Fists and legs swing across the screen, vehicles accelerate and roll over, bodies spin in the air. Shaji Kailas’ storytelling, however, remains frozen in time, back in the 1990s when he first shot into the limelight, as motionless as the mundu nestled around Kuriyaachan’s waist.
Rating: 1.75 (out of 5 stars)
Kaduva is in theaters now
Anna MM Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specializes in the interface between cinema and feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial
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