Mumbai, 19 May 2022 14:54 IST
Despite the excellent cinematography, production design and background score, the film's underwhelming climax lessens its overall impact.
We all have all played antakshari, a game where one sings a song that starts with the last consonant of the last word of the number sung by the previous player. Writer-director Vipin Das turns this fun game into a horrifying cat-and-mouse chase between a police officer and a psychotic killer.
The Malayalam-language film also touches upon issues such as caste discrimination, child abuse, animal torture, sexual harassment at the workplace and parental pressure via multiple subplots that are tied together by a Royal Enfield motorcycle.
Antakshari revolves around the upright inspector Das (Saiju Kurup), who loves the titular game so much that he even asks the complainants to play along. The peaceful lives of this happy-go-lucky cop, his better half (Priyanka Nair) and his daughter are turned upside down when a masked man attacks the girl in broad daylight in front of his wife, almost strangling her to death.
The attacker, who proceeds to call up Das to taunt him, seems to share his antakshari obsession and tries to get the policeman to join in the game. Das must undergo various hardships and connect the dots to find the true motive of his mysterious tormentor.
Meanwhile, Das's wife faces borderline sexual harassment by a senior colleague. There is also a story about an aspiring young guitarist, his mother and her controlling second husband; a teenage girl who doesn't speak; and a local politician who has a grudge against Das. Internal politics at the police station are also depicted.
The investigative drama is leisurely paced. The trope of a serial killer with a traumatic past is not new to Malayalam cinema and has been used effectively in Prithviraj Sukumaran's Memories (2009) and Kunchacko Boban's Anjam Pathiraa (2020).
But unlike these thrillers, which have briskly paced screenplays, Antakshari is a meandering slow-burn film. The pacing sometimes works in favour of the film, especially in creating a sense of dread and uneasiness but it also is a hindrance, especially in the first half while the filmmaker is busy establishing various subplots that ultimately weigh down the two-hour-long film.
The larger issue is the screenwriter's refusal to bring some sense of closure with regard to the parallel tracks. The film spends a good 30 to 40 minutes establishing various threads but there is no payoff eventually. The scriptwriter has tried to establish a vague connection between the plot points with a Royal Enfield, but it comes across as a contrived afterthought.
The climax, especially the revelation of the killer's motive, is formulaic and doesn't shock you or leave you morally confused, unlike the aforementioned Malayalam psychological thrillers.
But amidst all of this, the film has occasional moments of brilliance, such as the scene when Das comes across his first clue. But sadly these scenes are far and few between.
The entire cast, be the lead artists or supporting artistes, has brought its A-game to this film. Saiju, who mostly plays comical or light-hearted roles in Malayalam cinema, is brilliant as a brooding cop. He beautifully shows the vulnerability, warmth and increasing desperation of a father with each passing day. His desperation and helplessness are palpable in every scene. Other artists such as Priyanka; Sudhi Koppa, who plays the rookie police officer; and Binu Pappu, who plays Das's superior, have provided excellent support with their performances.
Antakshari also scores well in technical departments such as cinematography and production design. Lensman Bablu Aju perfectly captures the mood and theme of the film without ever going overboard. He also uses the location to good effect to create a sense of unease. There is no song in the film, but Ankit Menon's background score perfectly complements Antakshari's dark tone.
Overall, Vipin Das's Antakshari has a few things going for it, but the filmmaker's refusal but the unsatisfactory conclusions of the subplots and the underwhelming climax lessen its overall impact.
Antakshari is being streamed on SonyLiv.
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