A largely effective cat-and-mouse game

Barring one or two bad decisions, these two men fail only when they get outsmarted by the other, not because of a badly written loose end or a strangely illogical decision
Kalaga Thalaivan
Kalaga Thalaivan

Kalaga Thalaivan has a rather unique ‘hero introduction’ sequence. A vulnerable elderly man is in trouble, as he gets cornered by someone powerful. It is usually when they scream out for help and the brave hero steps in to save the day. In Magizh Thirumeni’s universe, however, things are a bit different. Here, the injustice that happens is not on the road, but in an IT company, and the man in trouble is an outdated super-senior struggling to complete a task. Udhayanidhi’s Pugazh does step in, as expected, but he does so with a difference. He uses remote access to get the old man’s job done, and you hear thunderous music in the background, as he sits in his bay with a poker face. It’s a great segue for an actor like Udhayanidhi to blend into Magizh’s violent world.

The writer-director keeps making such witty writing choices throughout the film which sets it apart from run-of-the-mill thrillers. Though the non-linear screenplay gets a bit too much to process as the plot progresses, it does help keep us invested in the proceedings. Much like his previous films, Meeghamann and Thadam, Kalaga Thalaivan is also divided into chapters that hop between timelines and locations. Even if we stripped away the chapters and the non-linear narrative, the film would still serve as a clever cat-and-mouse game with the antagonist here being as witty and relentless as the protagonist.

Barring one or two bad decisions, these two men fail only when they get outsmarted by the other, not because of a badly written loose end or a strangely illogical decision. While I initially found it hard to buy the super-stiff Aarav as a cold-blooded assassin, he did grow on me and the much-delayed background information of the character increases the believability of his portrayal.

Despite the love track being rather unimaginative in comparison with Magizh’s previous films, I quite enjoyed what is on offer here. We understand why the protagonist falls for Nidhhi’s Mythili and vice-versa, and also see their equation evolve through conversations. I also liked that the sexual tension between them is captured aesthetically. Nidhhi impresses in a well-written role and it is nice to see a heroine get her priorities right in a commercial film headlined by men.

Kalaga Thalaivan is clearly not meant for the faint-hearted as the film keeps throwing effective and innovative forms of violence at us. I enjoyed that Magizh implies much of the violence, cutting away the gory imagery. For instance, a helpless father is forced to witness a gruesome rape video of a girl, even as the camera remains focussed on his tears. He gets released after some time, but not before the villain says, “What you saw was just a minute of a 12-hour-long footage.” There, that’s the punch to our gut.

Though the film has many interesting, witty ideas, Kalaga Thalaivan falls short of being a wholely compelling entertainer because of all the cinematic liberty it takes and the lack of clarity on the motivations of the protagonist. Even when Udhayanidhi’s character gets a happy ending, we are not sure how his decade-long effort affects the greater scheme of things.

Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.” You see this coming to play during a crucial scene in the film. I’m not sure the film is as effective though. It’s a competent strike, yes, but just not one enough to knock us out.

Director: Magizh Thirumeni
Cast: Udhayanidhi Stalin, Aarav, Kalaiyarasan, Nidhhi Agerwal

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