Kaaval Malayalam Movie Review
Nithin Renji Panicker's Kaaval is an action drama about an older adult who takes his kith and kin under his wing. The title means protection, and even the introduction scene of Suresh Gopi's Thampan refers to the protective aspect of his character. In the scene, we see Thampan dress the wound of a chicken even as a vulture flies above their head. This scene is in the present day.
In flashbacks, we learn that Thampan and Renji Panicker's Antony were public members running more of a parallel government system in Kattappana. Their godfather-like deeds there not only get them a loyal following but also rub powerful people the wrong way. Little do they know that the enmity they gain in Kattappana would span across generations.
The flashback comes around half an hour into the film. We expect a lot of fireworks in that portion as Kaaval is considered a film that serves as a throwback to Suresh Gopi's commercial actioners from the nineties. Kaaval is not quite a star vehicle but is a star-centered film. There is a solid build-up to the Thampan character, with a decent backstory that establishes his human connections. There are also many punch dialogues in the flashback sequence, some of which we see in the trailer.
Now, this is another film that could have been made without a trailer. The trailer kind of robs us of the surprise quotient in the movie. Even individual scenes in some parts of the film deprive us of the surprise element in the coming portions. Take the Thampan character himself, for instance. The introduction scene of the actor is not the first point where we hear his character's name. That earlier scene adds a lot to the story of the film but works as a mini-spoiler too.
Frequent film buffs can see the twists and turns in the story coming from a mile away. Kaaval is a more subdued Nithin Renji Panicker film than Kasaba. What this means is that Nithin takes a few risks and makes some narrative choices that are well-intentioned but that do not pay off.
At one point, Suresh Gopi's character warns a cop not to mess with him while considering him ashes. Suresh Gopi tells the cop that he is more an ember than ashes. As part of an individual scene, this is a terrific idea. As a star, Suresh Gopi may be on the wane, but there is still a spark in him. Nithin Renji Panicker works this aspect of the star into the script of Kaaval. However, there is not enough dramatic heft in the written material to make it work. A mass scene at a hospital that comes later in the film also works but only as an individual set piece.
From a purely technical standpoint, Kaaval is well made. A fight sequence in a dimly lit house with Suresh Gopi is alluring. The sequences with the woodland and the hairpin bends in Kattappana are stunning. There are also terrific performances from Suresh Gopi and Renji Panicker here. If Kaaval makes you nostalgic about Suresh Gopi's yesteryear hits in a good way, join the club.
What the film lacks or needs is more clarity in terms of writing and a strong antagonist. Nowadays, the villainy in Malayalam mass cinema equals body show and posturing. Gone are the days of strong villains in our mass cinema such as Kulappully Appan, Hyder Marakkar, Vishwanathan, Mohan Thomas, Mundakkal Shekaran, and Swami Amoorthananda.