Desi Sherlock Holmes? Kannada film Shivaji Surathkal has the potential to turn into a successful franchise
Multi-faceted Sandalwood actor Ramesh Aravind sinks his teeth into a role tailor-written for him, in Shivaji Surathkal: The Case of Ranagiri Rahasya.
After years of playing the soft lead or someone with a good comic timing, the multi-faceted Sandalwood actor Ramesh Aravind sinks his teeth into a role tailor-written for him, in Shivaji Surathkal: The Case of Ranagiri Rahasya.
As police investigator of the same name, who has an elephantine memory and the ability to ‘imagine’ a crime scene and solve cases, Ramesh is in top form in the eponymous film directed by Akash Srivatsa. Yes, it initially grates to see the character keep speaking about how he’s a genius, but soon, once you do see shades of genius, the telling does not rankle.
The Madikeri-Dakshina Kannada stretch of Karnataka is among the greenest, and cinematographer Guruprasad MG turns the spotlight on every shade of green in the film. However, after showing you what it is during the day, he also shows you what it can be like when you’re in the middle of a forest road, and when the kind folks at the check post have already warned you about how strange things happen in the area. There’s an allusion to black magic and the supernatural. Judah Sandhy’s music enhances the fear factor, and is an unobtrusive presence that deeply respects silence.
So here's how the film begins. Roshan, a minister’s son, drives down the same path as his car stops midway, which forces him to stay back at a pretty resort in the middle of the jungle. He’s warned to not open the door whatever happens and to only use the landline, but, no surprises there, he's found dead by the pool.
The Minister (Avinash) and the top cop rely on Shivaji Surathkal, a police officer with a past and who is battling mental health issues, to figure what happened to Roshan within 48 hours. Two things need mention. Firstly, the casual reference to Shivaji’s mental health and that he needs medication to function normally. It is refreshing to watch a film that does not belittle this angle or use it to milk sympathy. Secondly, the reference to a character’s asthma condition and his inhaler dependence, and the fact that a spray of room freshener can be debilitating. It’s the second reference I remember in cinema, after Dimple Kapadia’s character in Dabangg.
When Shivaji lands in the resort with his Man Friday Govind (Raghu Ramanakoppa), he reels off things about the owner Preetham Shetty, gauged by close observation. Before you can be in awe of his abilities, the character sets forth on a detailed explanation as to how he managed this feat. The awe flies out of the window.
After a point, everyone staying in the resort seems like a suspect. Everyone talks about feeling uncomfortable, about sensing an eerie presence and being unable to sleep. After some very apparent product placement (Levista Coffee, for example) and nights of sleeplessness, Shivaji starts believing that something is wrong with him too. Before he figures why, you do, but then, sometimes, you forgive some slips in an otherwise-well written whodunit.
The best part of the screenplay is how it flits between the present and the past, when Shivaji goes on a wild goose chase in search of his missing lawyer-wife and dog. Then and now, the one constant in his life is Govind, who is both obedient and nurturing depending on what his boss needs. When Shivaji is almost ready to give up, it is Govind who shores him up, and both times, a case breakthrough happens because Govind observes something, or mentions something in passing.
This is also a film that has got its gender politics right. A character, Dr Anjali, experiences something that leads to the ultimate reveal, and the way the scene is conceptualised is quite sensitive. The first half focuses on the scares, and the sight of the jungle by creating an eerie atmosphere needed for a film of this nature. But, the film shines in the taut second half (editing: Srikanth and Akash Srivatsa), tying up various loose ends and leaving you satisfied with a climax that makes sense to both the heart and the mind.
The way the film concludes, you know this has the potential to turn into a successful franchise. Only, the next time around, I hope Shivaji learns that ‘show, don’t tell’ is a good lesson to remember in life.
Watch the trailer here:
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