Director Prasanth Varma’s genre-bending debut film Awe was strewn with cues from mythology to give the story an added depth. The mythology references continue in his second outing, Kalki. Unlike Awe, this is a more mainstream film, and the title Kalki is enough to allude to the Dashavataras.
The story (the original idea credited to kahaniya.com) is set in Kollapur, Telangana, in 1983. The hairstyles and pop-culture references reflect the early 80s. World Cup Cricket is on and Kalki IPS (Dr Rajashekar) is tuned into the commentary as he drives into the village that looks like it’s nearing doomsday. The villagers have other pressing issues than cricket — like safeguarding themselves from the tyrant local MLA Narsappa (Ashutosh Rana, unleashing on-screen fury for the nth time and still making it look believable).
The director leads us into this village through the eyes of the bumbling but duty-bound crime reporter Devadatta (Rahul Ramakrishna, who looks every bit the part he plays and gets some of the best lines in the film). Devadatta comes to cover the village jatara that turns morbid after the village’s beacon of hope, the benevolent Shekhar Babu (Siddhu Jonnalagadda), who’s also Narsappa’s brother, is murdered.
The village is no stranger to terrible happenings. Legend has it that a palace was burnt down in the past, killing the Good Samaritan Rani Chandramma and her only son.
Devadatta’s exploration of the palace ruins is a reminder of several horror/horror-comedy films set in similar spaces. He’s scared out of his wits by something he spots there and wants to leave the village. The arrival of Kalki IPS makes him stay back, in the hope of some headline-worthy news reports.
- Cast: Dr Rajashekar, Rahul Ramakrishna, Nandita Shweta, Adah Sharma
- Director: Prasanth Varma
Kalki has several sub plots, including that of a Muslim girl (Nandita Shweta) who stands up against gender and religious divides to launch ferry boats to Srikakulam that can help boost tourism in Kollapur region. In another scene, she’s reading the Koran and the pages turn to also reveal the Bhagavad Gita.
There’s religious symbolism all through the narrative. Kalki wields the axe, plough, bow and arrows, guns… He also gets a pre-interval fight sequence in the rain, holding an umbrella, a typical commercial film trope. But director Prasanth has the last laugh when he uses all these, and the religious symbolism and conversations in the narrative, to reveal the bigger picture in the last few minutes. In an earlier scene, the hermit-like Sambasivam (Nasser) comments that Hanuman can only help, it’s Ram who has to wage a war. A conversation about Draupadi and Krishna is recalled later, to explain a development from a different perspective. A Narasimha temple plays a key role.
If all this isn’t enough, there are two flashbacks as well. The eagerness to pack in so much makes the investigative thriller bloated. It’s a tedious journey to wade through.
The technical team, especially art director Nagendra and cinematographer Dasaradhi Sivendra, deserve a mention. Dr Rajashekar’s presence befits the retro setting of the narrative and he’s good with the wry humour required for his part. Among the women, Nandita Shweta makes an impression while Adah Sharma as the estranged lady love has very little to do. Siddhu Jonnalagadda, Charandeep and Shatru leave a mark in their brief supporting parts.