Slight variations on a familiar tune can often trick us into assuming that we are listening to something fresh. Abhilash Joshiy’s debut directorial King of Kotha, written by Abhilash N. Chandran survives on such variations to the familiar tropes, from a long line of gangster films, with some of these being delightful and some others just falling flat. The delightful ones — the rivalry and the evolving relationships between two close friends turned foes (the driving force of the film) — take the cake, while there are quite a few contenders for the latter.
Just like in most such films, Kotha Raju (Dulquer Salmaan), the protagonist, who is not averse to extreme violence, is against drug trafficking. But here, it is not dictated by some lofty personal principle, but by his girlfriend Tara’s (Aishwarya Lekshmi) aversion to drugs. Predictably, the question of whether the gang should deal in drugs becomes the cause of a rift between Raju and his best friend Kannan (Shabeer Kallarakkal, who memorably played ‘Dancing Rose’ in Sarpatta Parambarai).
We see Kotha’s present through the eyes of police officer Shahul Hassan (Prasanna Kumar), and its past through the recollections of his subordinate. The larger-than-life stories of Raju still lords over the landscape, now ruled by Kannan Bhai. In a cinematic equivalent of the movie’s pre-release hype, Joshiy and Chandran fill the screen with bits and pieces to play up Raju’s legend, before unleashing him on screen. And, just like how the movie pans out, although Raju stands tall, he does not exactly set the screen on fire, which can be partly attributed to the writing. The punch lines land with a whimper than a bang.
King of Kotha
Director: Abhilash Joshiy
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Shabeer Kallarakkal, Nyla Usha, Chemban Vinod Jose
Storyline: Police officer Shahul Hassan devises a plan to bring gangster Kotha Ravi back to Kotha, to take down his rival Kannan Bhai, under whom the place has turned into a den of drugs
Runtime: 176 minutes
Yet, it is owing to the all-round strength of the technical department that the film holds up without falling apart due to its unimaginative writing. The frenzied visuals of countless bloody fights and football games, Jakes Bejoy’s background score, and the conviction of its lead performers somehow holds together the rickety vehicle with its parts falling off during its excruciating journey of three hours.
The script does have its moments, like the way the past of Raju and Kannan, from their younger days, informs their present and adds a different dimension to their rivalry. When they meet again after several years, in a tense situation, they share a friendly drink and play a game together at the local football ground, even though they might be scheming behind each others’ backs. The same goes for how Raju and his father Kotha Ravi’s (Shammi Thilakan) relationship is treated. But such delicate touches that can add depth to a regular gangster flick are absent elsewhere in the film, which is mostly happy to stick to the trodden path, in the hope that the visual splendour would do the rest.
Nyla Usha, as the gangster’s wife Manju, carries more than a shade of her character from Porinju Mariam Jose, also written by Chandran and directed by Abhilash’s father Joshiy, one of the masters of mass entertainers in Malayalam cinema. But she has something more substantial to play than Aishwarya Lekshmi, who gets only a little screen time. Shabeer Kallarakkal almost steals the movie from Dulquer with yet another impactful role.
Director Abhilash, who seems to have the sensibilities to carry a movie mounted on such a scale, could have pulled off something grander if he had better writing to aid him. King of Kotha, in the end, is an unabashed vehicle for Dulquer’s superstardom aspirations, but it does not pack enough of a punch to become the crowning glory that it was intended to be.
King of Kotha is currently running in theatres