Kolai Movie Review: Balaji Kumar's 'Kolai' is great to look at, but the murder mystery beneath is barely exciting

Balaji kumar
In this thriller starring Vijay Antony and Ritika Singh, the narrative struggles to live up to the visuals.
Kolai Movie Review

Kolai Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Infiniti Film Ventures,Lotus Pictures
Director : Balaji kumar
Music Director : Girishh G.

Balaji Kumar made an impressive debut with Vidiyum Munn, in 2013. Ten years later, he is back with a film that at least looks impressive. Kolai – based on a true-life murder case – feels like a music video fused with a Vogue fashion shoot fused with the sensibilities of a noir-comic like Sin City. The look fits because the murder victim is a fashion model – and as she says, she is all about surfaces. The old song 'Paartha nyabagam illayo' is sung, and also used frequently in the jazz-inflected background score. And these songs come with surreal visuals: clouds that look like faces, and two lovers standing between trains roaring past them. Even the song that opens the film has a certain sensibility. It's the aria 'Nessun dorma'. It's almost a signal that the visuals are going to be equally operatic.

But the story/narrative struggles to live up to the visuals. It's the old formula of a retired detective (Vijay Antony, in a weird wig, as Vinayak) lured back into a case by a bright protégée (Ritika Singh). There's suicide, blackmail, a senior cop who wants to close the case ASAP, a boy with special needs, and a personal angle for Vinayak that involves an ailing daughter. All of this promises a heady mix of drama and excitement – even if the early scenes hint that mood is going to be prioritised over nail-biting tension. But by the interval point, I realised I was barely invested in the goings-on, and with scene after scene of people being interrogated, I was not holding my breath about who the killer is.

Part of the reason is the deliberate pacing, the stiff acting, and the distracting over-emphasis on a certain kind of staging. For instance, when a man who is being interrogated lights a cigarette, he gets freeze-framed while the detectives continue their conversation. This sort of thing feels gimmicky and disconnects us from the plot and the characters. The emotional angles, too, don't work – whether it's about lovers or parents. But more importantly, there is no sense of continuity, where one scene builds to the next, and that scene builds to the one after that. But then, even without these issues, the basic plot doesn't seem to have much meat. The reveal at the end is a bummer. This is supposed to be one of the most famous murder cases. Maybe reading about it will tell us what drew this filmmaker to make this film.


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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.