Careful movie review: Vijay Babu and Jomol impress in a flawed but interesting thriller
Director: VK Prakash
In a week when Bollywood has brought us that damp squib in the name of a thriller, Dobaara: See Your Evil, here comes a far neater suspense saga from Mollywood and Sandalwood. Careful is the Malayalam remake of last year’s Kannada release U-Turn, which was written, produced and directed by Pawan Kumar, one of the brightest minds in Karnataka cinema.
Your experience of Careful will obviously be governed by whether or not you have already seen U-Turn. I kept the original bookmarked on my laptop until after I watched Careful for this review. I am glad I did. Imagine knowing, before stepping into the theatre, that the butler did it?
Starring the very pretty newcomer Sandhya Raju with Vijay Babu, Careful begins tamely with two parallel threads. Rachna (Raju), a young journalist living on her own in a Kerala city, is pulled up by her editor for not filing any exclusive reports for the newspaper. Meanwhile, a loving couple (played by Jomol and Saiju Kurup) spend time with their only child. While tracking a bunch of seemingly innocuous traffic violations, Rachna unexpectedly finds herself in the middle of a police investigation involving an offender she is following. The cops suspect that she is up to no good. After their initial high-handedness though, one of them (Vijay Babu) ropes her in to help crack this baffling case.
Director VK Prakash’s effectiveness in this film comes from an unusual balance he manages to strike in the tone of his storytelling. When characters around Rachna begin to drop dead like flies in a Baygon haze, the happenings on-screen obviously acquire a certain urgency. Yet, the narrative trots along at a sedate pace, opting for a quiet air of foreboding rather than artificially enhanced speed. It is as if the filmmaker wants to give the audience time to consider various alternative reasons why a string of seemingly unconnected events may, in fact, be connected – it is an unconventional choice to make in this genre.
Is Rachna feigning innocence? Are her boyfriend, that couple we saw first and/or the cobbler in on her game? What ties X to Y and Z? Or are coincidences being erroneously linked? Have we been given all the material we need to solve the mystery ourselves, or in the end will the maker throw in a plot twist unrelated to anything that has happened on screen until then? Whatever conclusion you arrive at, I am willing to bet that the climax is bound to throw up a surprise.
That said, it is important to mention that the road to that climax comes bearing many potholes. The writing of Rachna’s colleague-cum-boyfriend, for instance, is awkward. The two are a mismatch. And though they seem very involved with each other, when she disappears for several hours, he does not raise an alarm. Even his dialogues come across as heavy handed in the effort to sound frothy – what on earth was that about not wanting to have coffee with her?
That the police would violate an individual’s rights is not inconceivable, but it does seem strange that when the individual in question is a journalist, she does not whimper in protest once she is free from their clutches. There are other irritants, not the least of them being the unnecessary song in the climax right after the big reveal.
Team Careful also does not fully understand the workings of media organisations: pray tell me, which major newspaper would expect a trainee to break exclusive stories on her own, instead of guiding her through material fed to her by a senior?
In fact, why did Rachna need to be a trainee at all? The protagonist would have been more convincing within this plot if she had been slightly older and more experienced – an age when a reporter would naturally be expected to discover stories as a matter of routine, yet might still be intimidated by the unexpected and require hand holding. If Sandhya Raju is not as impactful as her co-stars in Careful, it is not her fault; it is the fault of this illogical choice made in the screenplay.
The rest of the cast is impressive. Vijay Babu brings gravitas to his role as a determined policeman. Jomol and Kurup opt for restraint in scenes that could easily have been overplayed. Their performances and the strategically incremental doses in which information is revealed to the audience are why Careful, in its overall impact, manages to rise above its flaws.
The marketing of Careful has included a video testimonial by actor Mohanlal stressing the film’s message about traffic violations. That is an oddly reductive way to promote an entertaining whodunnit that does indeed raise a relevant issue, but not quite so literally. The message is not ‘about traffic violations’, for heaven’s sake. Careful is a thriller that, in its poignant denouement, makes a larger point about our tiniest casual actions having consequences. That it does so without an iota of preaching makes it uncommon. This is an immensely watchable film.