‘Kavaludaari’ review: Potpourri Fury

As writer-director Hemanth M. Rao‘s Kannada feature Kavaludaari (Crossroads) unfolded, I couldn’t help but marvel at how he scouted for and shot in locations across the city of Bangalore where vehicular traffic seemed like a nightmare in a parallel universe; where car chases were as smooth as its benne dosas, and there were only  superior quality roads and garbage-free footpaths as far as the drone could see.

Rishi: Unearthing all the shadiness.

Life’s not all that utopian for the movie’s characters, though. There’s the wannabe detective-but-stuck-in-a-rut traffic cop Shyam (Rishi in an act that’s sometimes effective, in other places too genteel for his—or his character’s good), whose life takes an irreversible turn after human bones turn up at a metro construction’s site. No, those aren’t folks who gave up waiting for: a, the metro trains to be up and running, b, the traffic signal to turn green, or c, both of the above. Shyam bumps in the down-and-out owner and reporter of the lusterless circulation fame tabloid Lock Up News, Kumar (Achyuth Kumar, good, but why does he lose his famed Hubli accent after the first act?), who’s investigating the very same skeletal mystery. There’s also a recluse cop, Inspector Muthanna, who forms an important part of the jigsaw puzzle from the past that Shyam’s trying to piece together. Anant Nag brings his usual gravitas and world-weariness to his Old Monk-laced act that’s absolutely effective…until director Rao adds layers of emotions and melodrama that begins to bog the movie down.

You can’t nag Anant Nag about his Old Monk.

As the movie begins circa 1977 unravelling a mysterious death and the titles begin, Rao leaves you in no doubt about his intentions and homages. You brace yourself for a tightly spun suspense mystery that’s cloaked with human foibles and doffs to Alfred Hitchcock. And there are elements there that take you back to the maestro’s touches and camera angles. Then the investigation begins to get personal for Shyam and consumes him and you detect traces of David Fincher‘s spine-chilling Zodiac. That’s fine too. But then the writer-director seems to have too much more to say, too many plot-angles to cover, and you realize he’s got a cornucopia of tributes and influences, and can’t wait to tick off all of them. Plus, he’s got to pay his tribute to the police force as well. Add in an imminent election, politics,  a seductress (Suman Ranganathan), a la Roman Polanski‘s classic Chinatown, and the potpourri is more or less complete. Plus, Rao insists employing a cringe-inducing villainous laughter in a psychedelic-red lit godown as the villain of the piece begins to unmask himself and his devious plan, also exposing other characters of the whodunit and their pasts. By now, Shyam’s latent relationship with Kumar’s daughter Priya (Roshni Prakash) is also in the mix, and the plot’s plodding weans you away from the movie’s essence and original intent. With the result that even when the end comes with its own karmic twist, you’re already too far gone past the crossroads to care, which is a pity. For somewhere in that concoction—and amidst some smart editing by Jagdeesh and moody cinematography by Advaitha Gurumurthy— was a simmering suspenseful ingredient waiting to be savored.

Rishi and Achyuth Kumar: the two investigators.

As if almost in answer to my opening poser, director Hemanth Rao throws in a heartbreaking scene of loss; where, the main villain of the piece isn’t an evil-looking, eye-patched, cigar-smoking goon. It’s a multitude of incessantly honking, four-and two-wheeled machines that ironically defeat the very purpose for which they’d been bought by its owners. That’s exactly when you realize how powerless even the cops who’re supposed to manage Bangalore traffic are against the onslaught of political and infrastructural sloth and public apathy. That’s one crossroad you hope your job—or your life—never gets you to.

Kavaludaari (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Kavaludaari is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for some mildly intense scenes.

Director Hemanth M. Rao Time 2h 23 min
Writer Hemanth M. Rao
Stars Anant Nag, Rishi, Achyuth Kumar, Roshni Prakash
Genres  Thriller