In recent years, Kollywood has taken rapid strides in terms of quality cinema. Even as superstar-driven films continue to dominate Kollywood, there’s enough space for the new wave of film-makers who push the boundaries. Lokesh Kanagaraj belongs to this category, having made his directorial debut through the impressive thriller Maanagaram in 2017.
Set in Chennai, a group of senior cops gets doped at a house party conducted by their top official who is nearing retirement. On the same night, Special Task Officer Bejoy (Narein) gets a tip-off regarding a gargantuan drugs consignment whose value is a minimum of INR 800 crore. It’s gone missing and there’s a set of gangsters who are hell-bent on retrieving the goods which is placed near the Commissioner’s office. Bejoy is saddled with the responsibility of getting the doped cops there but it’s no piece of cake.
He decides to get the cops transferred in a lorry that is owned by the catering group that had provided food for the party. Dilli (Karthi) is a prisoner who has just completed serving a 10-year punishment and is all set to meet his daughter for the first time. The latter has been in an orphanage all these years, unaware of her father’s existence. Bejoy seeks Dilli’s help and the latter reluctantly agrees. Also with them on this trip unintentionally is the vehicle’s happy-go-lucky caretaker.
There are plenty of sub-plots too. The station that is the center of attention has no cops at the workplace. Only the prisoners, a newly transferred policeman and a bunch of college students caught for drunken driving are there. On top of all this, a top gun in the police department, Stephen Raj (Hareesh Peradi) is coordinating the heist with the mafia but sees a potential obstacle in an unknown undercover cop who has infiltrated the gang. The movie steadily joins all the dots as it heads towards a riveting climax.
In case you haven’t guessed this by now, Kaithi is a one-night story with a plethora of characters who all have their own battles to fight. Dilli and Bejoy might be the protagonists but each of the characters are significant in one way or the other. Lokesh, who also helmed the script, has given a new dimension to the thriller genre in Tamil with his unconventional writing and top-notch direction. There’s plenty of thrills, fiery action sequences and also a neat blend of emotions that are portrayed well.
As the raw, weary prisoner who has been scarred mentally over the years, Karthi puts in a superb performance. He seamlessly shifts between being powerful and vulnerable. Narein also does a fair job as does the bloke who plays the caretaker’s role. The emotional undercurrent in the story line is captured poetically by Lokesh and Karthi’s stellar act compliments the direction.
Sathyan Sooryan’s cinematography deserves equal praise, as the lighting and framing becomes paramount for a film that has only night scenes in it. He manages to create a grim mood and Philomin Raj’s editing gives the film a crisp touch. It’s not often that a mainstream action thriller in Kollywood ends up without a single song in the entire film. Kaithi defies that trend in its 140-odd minutes. However, Lokesh doesn’t do all this intentionally—it’s just that he genuinely doesn’t believe there’s a need for songs in such a thriller. Safe to say that expectations are humungous on Lokesh’s next directorial venture that features Vijay in the lead. We could also see a sequel on Kaithi soon, given its climax.