118 movie review: Kalyan Ram goes on a wild goose chase to find the plot of KV Guhan's thriller
The premise of 118 is quite interesting; however, the moment he hits the accelerator of his SUV, the film too begins to run to match up to the speed of his vehicle
Before introducing us to the world of 118, KV Guhan, writer-cinematographer-director of the film, shares a famous quote by Virginia Woolf which goes: “It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes makes its way to the surface.” The quote is important in the context of 118 because it’s a story about a recurring dream and the truth behind it. Since the closest reference we have to a story that talks vividly about dreams is Christopher Nolan’s Inception, KV Guhan also goes a step further to introduce us to the concept of lucid dreaming. Without going into the science behind it, we are told to simply believe that the protagonist unlocks his ability to step inside his dreams to take a closer look at an incident that has been haunting him for days altogether. But 118 is no Inception, and Guhan is not Nolan. So, a story about dreams soon turns into a headache, until it really explains what the whole wild goose chase is all about. It redeems itself in the end, but it also begs you to question whether the journey till that point have to be so convoluted?
Like many other socially conscious films, 118 too has an important story to tell; however, Guhan doesn’t want to reveal anything or even give a hint about what he wants to say until the very end. So, we have a protagonist, Gautham (Kalyan Ram), a modern version of Sherlock Holmes who works as an investigative journalist. He doesn’t just break news, he also breaks bones. He connects the dots faster than anyone can manage to talk to him. Gautham is like Clark Kent, just that he doesn’t have a cape when he goes on a mission to unlock his dreams. He doesn’t have time to crack a joke or even laugh with his buddies. So, one day when he wakes up in the middle of the night (the clock shows 1.18 am), he finds himself break into a sweat. He has seen a young girl being killed in his dream. Six months later, he dreams the same dream. This time, he realises that the clock has stopped at 1.18 am and he is in room number 118 in the same resort. And thus begins his hunt to find answers to his dreams because he wants a closure for everything in his life.
The premise of the film is quite interesting; however, the moment he hits the accelerator of his SUV, the film too begins to run to match up to the speed of his vehicle. There are twists and turns, but everything seems so pointless. At one point, Gautham concludes that he must conjure up the same dream once again to find clues; however, instead of going into the science behind dreams and their randomness, Guhan tells us that the recurring dream will only come back on a full moon day in room number 118. It’s sheer luck that people staying in that room don’t turn into werewolves given the signs and clues we are offered. Maybe this is what separates a film about dreams than the one trying to dream about making a gripping film about dreams: a lack of consistency. If this isn’t enough, there’s a not-so-cute love story between Gautham and Megha (Shalini Pandey) that is interspersed in the narrative, and it acts like an unnecessary distraction. At no point are we told why Gautham is in a rush to crack the puzzle. His personal life isn’t at stake; he doesn’t even know if the girl in his dreams is dead or alive. For someone who dreams that particular dream six months apart, his desperation doesn’t feel organic enough.
118 is also a road film because Gautham hits the road, way too often, to find clues. The mission becomes his treasure hunt and he doesn’t like seeking help from cops, unless he wants to pull in a favour from them. Finally when he learns that the girl in his dreams is Aadhya (Nivetha Thomas), we are left with a feeling that he’s already in love with her. But that’s clearly not the case. We don’t know why he empathises with her so much. And what makes him put his own life at risk to unlock his dreams. Perhaps, this was Guhan’s way of justifying what the lead character needs to do between two full moons. For all the hullabaloo the film tries to create throughout its narrative, the story itself is shallow and doesn’t warrant our empathy.
But then, there’s a story within this story, like there’s a dream within a dream in Inception. And it’s here that 118 finds its true voice and soul in the form of Nivetha Thomas. It would be a crime to reveal what put her life in jeopardy, but it’s easily the best stretch in the film. And it makes a good impact too. Nivetha delivers a wonderful performance as a young woman coming to terms with her guilt. If you are likely to remember anything about 118 then it might very well be the sight of Nivetha breaking down into tears. For Kalyan Ram, 118 is yet another quasi-thriller which tries to add heft to his action hero image. There are plenty of action sequences, which he pulls off well; however, he’s let down by a convoluted story yet again. Shalini Pandey finds herself in an underwritten role and her romantic track with Kalyan Ram hardly registers.
On a different note, filmmakers often face a dilemma when it comes to making choices: what makes a film engaging? Because 118 is both pacy and crispy, if you look at it in terms of how it unfolds, but it still doesn’t keep you engaged. It tries to be a thriller on paper, but it turns out to be an action film on screen. You are more likely to be restless than be on the edge of your seat. In a way, 118 is just like a dream. You don’t know why you are dreaming of something. There are only flashes that you can remember. But once you wake up, you don’t remember anything at all. And it doesn’t matter if you dream on a full moon day or not.
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