Tamil Features

Kaali Review: The Film Struggles To Be Different, But It Succeeds Only To An Extent

The first seven minutes of Vijay Antony’s Kaali, which were officially streamed a couple of days before the actual release, piqued your interest in what looked like a film about an adopted child from the US in search of his past. You could not have been farther from the truth. That’s the germ yes, but what Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi does with it is interesting in parts, and predictable in most.
Female directors face a peculiar disadvantage, and I mean it in the nicest possible way. They are held to a higher standard, almost as if the industry and audience accept in a roundabout way that they have to be different from the middling crowd.


Plus, Kiruthiga has to live up to the success of the breezy Vanakkam Chennai. She showed she could handle cozy relationships with élan in the movie. And then, there came the beautifully directed Sadhayai Meeri, a sensitive video on the transgender community.

And so, it is with great interest that you sit down to watch Kaali. The film begins promisingly enough, even if you choose to ignore some niggling inconsistencies. Once Dr Bharath (Vijay Antony, also the film’s producer and composer) decides to come to India to see what triggers his recurring dream involving a bull, a snake, and young mother and son, you’re ready for either a deeply emotional tale or one that is filled with a certain thrill factor. What you get is a “what if” scenario, featuring Vijay Antony in three different avatars, courtesy Yogi Babu, who can’t imagine the characters essayed by Madhusudhanan (a done-to-death Romeo and Juliet interlude), Nasser or Jayaprakash in their youth!

Of the three back stories, the most impressive is the one featuring Parvathy (an utterly majestic Shilpa Manjunath, who rocks the Kandangi sari look), a young girl married to a much older man (a recurring Vela Ramamoorthy), but who is tempted to a forbidden love, after an encounter with the local robber (Nasser). That is the only couple you root for, well knowing it has no future!

Sunaina shines in the Jayaprakash portion, which is the most consciously written segment, ticking all the social causes — untouchability, lack of education, the two-tumbler system. She shines with quiet dignity, but you wonder Kiruthiga had to recreate the old trope of “Oh my god, he’s shivering, I have to hug him into better health”, only to result in you know what!
Kiruthiga’s idea of having Vijay essay all the roles works to an extent, and it helps that the same people (including the fierce RK Suresh) appear across all segments, because they happen in a village lyrically called Kanavukkarai (the river bank of dreams).
The most underwhelming of the plots involves Anjali, an actress who can not just hold her own but also outshine others in the frame. Her Punithavalli, a native medicine healer needed far better writing. If women can’t write good roles for women…

All these parts take their time to come together, leaving you with the feeling the film needed tighter editing.

At its core, the film is about acceptance and forgiveness, among the two greatest virtues. An adopted mother (dubbing artiste Sreeja Ravi; when she speaks, you hear the heroines of the 90s!) not just accepts her son’s need to know his past, she follows up on his search, even if she breaks within when he refers to someone else as “ennoda amma”. A Christian priest lives for a village, to keep the word he gave a girl, who went away so his dignity stays. And, a doctor, having solved the puzzle of his adoption, chooses to not mention it, and walks away. He proves to be his mother’s son!

Vijay Antony has always had the knack of picking projects that play to his strengths, and he pushes the envelope a little further in this film. His performance still needs polish, but you can see he’s working at his game. The biggest disappointment is Yogi Babu. The man can make anyone laugh, but he can also do smart humour. Getting him to blurt out off-colour humour (pun intended) of dark-toned people versus fair-toned ones, and questioning how many fathers someone has is taking the easy way out. After a point, it all falls flat.

The loudest laughs were reserved for the little boy in an orphanage who helps Dr. Bharath with an address but wants Rs. 2,000 for the information, and quickly. “These days, notes are becoming invalid soon,” he says, his face a picture of innocence.
Among the technicians, cinematographer Richard M Nathan scores, and how. Among so many, the scene of a mother rocking her child to sleep is a work of beauty, with the light and shade playing oh so beautifully!

Kaali is the sort of film that leaves you confused. You don’t know whether you must appreciate it, because the director has attempted something new, but ignore the niggling doubts — a DNA testing lab in the middle of a jungle. Really! Or, does something different, and end up discouraging any new treatment.


You almost feel like Dr Bharath. Sitting in the US, he dreams of another universe, lives it in his dream every night. Where does his belong? That’s a doubt Kaali as a creation raises too. It’s not typical commercial cinema, but it does not raise above it too.
I’m going to wait for Kiruthiga’s third film. She writes and directs interactions between limited characters well. What if she got to take that to a new level?

The Kaali review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.