The biggest problem Indian cinema appears to be tackling right now is its dependence on and deference to American films. Right from the formative years, filmmakers have aped the stories, visuals, and even the aesthetics of Hollywood. One of the biggest laurels for a film in the mainstream remains, ‘it looks like a Hollywood film.’ The recent victim of such wannabe aspirations is director Balaji K Kumar’s Kolai. A note before the film tells us that it’s set in Madras, and not Chennai because things in the film are a little different from our reality. Mind you, it is not a period film. There’s no greater meaning for this set-up except that the director wants to make a film that looks like an American murder mystery. Unfortunately, Kolai ends up being a plastic film that is shallow and uninteresting.
Leila (Meenakshi Chaudhry), a model and singer, is found murdered in her apartment. The Inspector General wants the case solved as soon as possible as his retirement day is on the horizon. He urges Sandhya (Ritika Singh), the investigating officer, to seek the help of Vinayak (Vijay Antony), a renowned private detective. Like always, the PI is uninterested in the case as he is tackling his failing marriage and a bedridden daughter. And like always, he ends up taking the case. On the night of the murder, several men visited Leila’s apartment and everybody becomes a suspect. There are red herring, flashbacks, mourning boyfriend… the usual drill. Balaji has taken a straightforward murder mystery and tried to deliver a retro noir film when there’s nothing much to substantiate the style.
A lot of effort has gone into the gaudy set design of the film. Every frame looks rich but lifeless. The places in the film don’t look like it is inhabited by humans. The house, police station, and even streets look like life-size models displayed at Home Center. It is one thing to create exaggerated aesthetics for a film to back the nature of the story, but Balaji’s style doesn’t have any innate meaning to it. The far bigger problem is that this world is inconsistent. In one instance, we are in this weird setting, and in the next, it is our good old Chennai.
Kolai also suffers from an exposition problem. The moment we are introduced to a character, Balaji tells us everything we need to know about them. And nothing is interesting about the characters in Kolai because they are all stereotypes. There’s a suspect who is more about flaunting his biceps, a mentally-challenged neighbour who is a tech-savvy hacker, an addict who is a photographer, and so on. Even Vinayak and his problems don’t move us a bit as everything about the film is extremely remote to the viewer. A great twist might have made the film a bit more tolerable, but it fails on that account as well. Also, by the end of it, one doesn’t actually care about who killed whom. The only good outcome of the movie is the songs of composer Girish Gopala Krishnan. Yaar Nee and the new version of Tamil classic Paatha Nyabagam Illayo are the only things that remain with you.
Kolai cast: Vijay Antony, Ritika Singh, Meenakshi Chaudhry
Kolai director: Balaji K Kumar
Kolai Indian Express Rating: 1.5 / 5
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