Kalki movie review: Great premise, but this Netflix short film doesn't quite deliver the goods

Anupam Kant Verma

Mar,07 2018 20:17:00 IST


The mysteries of the human heart, the unfathomable depths of grief and the seemingly ungraspable nature of time comprise tantalising cinematic material. American independent filmmaker and wunderkind Shane Carruth’s Upstream Colour, for instance, delved into the challenges and opportunities presented by these to create a mesmerising tapestry. The premise of debut filmmaker Dhilip Kumar’s Kalki, now streaming on Netflix, makes for an exciting prospect. But in crafting a science fiction film revolving around the nature of time and love, all that Carruth got right, Kumar gets awfully wrong. The result is a flat, long short film that fails to justify its 40-plus minute runtime.

Kishore is a scientist grappling with the perplexing mysteries of space and time. He begins a romance with a younger colleague, suggestively named Kalki, who closely resembles Radhika, the wife he lost almost 20 years ago. A researcher herself, Kalki finds herself probing into the past of a man reticent to delve into it, falling deeper for him with every clue she turns up. As the film progresses, we learn about Kishore’s troubled relationship with Radhika and the nature of his investigations into time.

There is no denying the ambitions of this film that’s largely set inside a single house. That alone makes it worthy of a viewing. The director sets himself the task of mounting a film that grounds the grandeur of his ambition in the humility of love. Despite all the ideas and themes the narrative seeks to explore, the film tries to remain loyal to its central relationship. But this sincerity is tarnished by a mystery that annoyingly overshadows the most interesting aspects of the narrative.

Poster of Kalki/Netflix

Poster of Kalki/Netflix

The key to an engaging love story lies in authenticity. As soon as the narrative starts to manipulate the characters’ convictions into fitting inside its twists and turns, you lose the plot. And the audience is all too hardwired into this most primal of urges to fail to take notice. This is where an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shines. It weds the inventive nature of its central idea utterly convincingly to the grave trauma it inflicts upon its characters. Its protagonist literally witnesses his whole world falling all around him. His helplessness is almost absolute. But despite that, his pursuit of love and the sincerity of his quest never renders him a passive character.

This is primarily where Kumar’s ambitions exceed his grasp most glaringly. The mystery’s revelation comes across as too soft for a film that spends a majority of its runtime leading up to it. Not that he serves this mystery any better by titling it and naming his protagonist after Kalki, an avatar of Vishnu foretold to appear at the end of Kali Yuga. Had he chosen to delineate Kishore and Kalki’s relationship and motivations with more precision, the film could have ended up justifying its runtime more assuredly.

Kumar definitely had the right actress in Yasmin Ponnappa to see his film through. Her work in the excellent modern noir, Aaranya Kaandam, is testament to her acting chops. The quaint mix of innocence, mischief, resolve and wickedness she brought to Kaandam makes her the perfect choice for Kalki. Kishore Kumar ably presents the scientist’s inscrutable exterior veiling a torrid past. But the film fails to give its actors enough material to work with. The blossoming of their relationship under the shadow of his wife’s spectre doesn’t register substantial emotional engagement. This emotional vacancy really threatens to derail the film. Kumar plunges in and out of flashbacks to propel the narrative when it appears to sag. But by then the film has become too weighed down by the multiplicity of its ideas to make an emotional or aesthetic impact.

The gliding camerawork and the looming electronic score can’t salvage the core of the story from the wormhole it gradually falls into. Let down by a lack of focus, Kalki meanders through its long runtime, dancing around the themes it should have explored in order to service a mystery that leaves a lot to be desired. However, director Dhilip Kumar’s ambitions, if channelled more cogently, can certainly lead to more worthy films in the future.

Watch Kalki on Netflix.

Published Date: Mar 07, 2018 20:17 PM | Updated Date: Mar 07, 2018 21:33 PM