In the realm of global cinema, numerous films have garnered critical acclaim and achieved commercial success despite being labelled as 'style over substance' productions. In the context of Mollywood, two recent examples that readily come to mind are Thallumala and Ajagajantharam. These films are noteworthy for their emphasis on visual aesthetics, artistic creativity, and cinematic techniques over the depth of their plots—or so called ‘substance—yet managing to deliver a gratifying cinematic experience.
Dulquer Salmaan-starrer King of Kotha (KoK) is also a film that can be tagged as a ‘style over substance’ gangster flick. However, it is doubtful if the film can satisfy the audience.
Mollywood can boast about producing some commendable gangster action films, even though the numbers are lower compared to other film industries in the country. Dulquer Salmaan's debut movie, Second Show, which delved into gang wars and the murky underbelly of the criminal world, is a personal favourite. KoK also places its plot in a godforsaken land controlled by criminal gangs; it, however, failed to impress.
With a cinematic approach that steadfastly adheres to the conventions of a 'mass masala action movie,' filmmaker Abhilash Joshiy's work essentially tells the story of a rift between two friends, whose camaraderie is forged in the crucible of violence but eventually turns to enmity. The film features an abundance of bloodshed and action. However, the stylised action and mindless violence, on their own, fail to compensate for the film's weak storyline and script.
The success of a "formulaic" action film hinges significantly on the third act. This implies that the filmmaker must deliver to the audience a more substantial and grander action spectacle on screen than what was presented in the first two acts. This is a crucial aspect in which King of Kotha falls short.
Furthermore, the satisfaction derived by the audience from watching action thrillers is also contingent on a filmmaker's ability to craft a formidable antagonist (or antagonists) whom the hero can confront and defeat in the climactic third act of the film. We currently exist in an era where audiences are exposed to graphic and intense scenes in action films across various industries. Therefore, a few ruthless moments alone are insufficient to elevate a villain to the status of a good or great antagonist.
Contemporary audiences no longer find satisfaction in a cliched villain whose primary role is to dispatch a group of henchmen as mere cannon fodder for the hero. What truly elevates a villain to the status of a supervillain is his/her ability to play mind games in addition to the muscle power when engaged in a battle of wits against the hero.
In King of Kotha, Shabeer Kallarackal—who delivered a captivating performance as 'Dancing Rose' in Pa Ranjith's boxing drama Sarpatta Parambarai—assumes the role of the primary antagonist. Despite Kallarackal's commendable performance, the character of the villain in KoK remains somewhat lacklustre.
The character of 'hero' Raju, portrayed by Salmaan in King of Kotha, essentially embodies a psychopathic persona. Even when depicting a psychopathic or sociopathic character as the protagonist, there are nuanced approaches to garner audience support for the "hero's success." However, the film opts for a more overt method of conveying to the audience that Raju is a 'morally good' psychopath. To establish this moral dimension, the film portrays Raju as someone who prohibits the sale of drugs in Kotha.
Salmaan's commanding screen presence salvages the film on multiple occasions. Beyond that, there isn't anything particularly exceptional about the character.
The film's backdrop is the 1980s and 1990s, a period when the filmmaker's father, Joshiy, delivered a series of remarkable action films in Malayalam. It is uncertain whether this influenced the filmmaker's decision to set his debut movie in that era. However, it seems that even if the film were set in contemporary times, the impact might not have been substantially different.
Aishwarya Lekshmi, Anikha Surendran, Nyla Usha, Gokul Suresh, Chemban Vinod Jose, Shammi Thilakan, and Shanti Krishna comprise some of the supporting cast in the film. Despite the abundance of characters, the script falls short in providing depth to any of these roles. Gokul's policeman character serves as the narrator in the first half of the film. His voiceover at various junctures, however, becomes a source of frustration due to poor scripting.. While Gokul delivers a controlled acting performance, the dialogues he's tasked with delivering and the character he embodies remain mediocre.
King of Kotha clocks in at nearly three hours in duration. A more judicious and precise editing process could have resulted in a more tolerable viewing experience. Notably, the film shines in the realms of cinematography and action choreography. In a climactic action sequence, the creative camera work explores point-of-view (POV) shots, lending a unique close combat atmosphere. The background score, while loud, aptly complements the scenes that glorify the 'hero.' However, during what can be deemed as 'so-called' emotional moments, it regrettably veers toward mediocrity.
King of Kotha undoubtedly exhibits ambition in its scope. Its release in four different languages indicates a clear intention to appeal beyond the sensibilities of the local Malayalam audience. This film is crafted with a broader, non-Kerala audience and fan base in mind. Consequently, it is highly probable that the film may find greater resonance and success in other film industries rather than within Kerala.
Movie: King of Kotha
Director: Abhilash Joshiy
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Anikha Surendran, Nyla Usha, Gokul Suresh, Chemban Vinod Jose, Shammi Thilakan