It isn’t easy making a thriller, and certainly not one that has revenge as its core theme. Why isn’t it easy? Well simple-for years together we’ve grown up on a staple diet of such films, some of them have worked, and many didn’t work as well. The ones which worked well had their reasons, probably the tale by itself was interesting, add to it a taut screenplay and narrative and perhaps a good star cast as well. Of course some of these films which didn’t work also must have got some of these elements right, but slipped on the way somewhere along. Personally I have always been found of revenge stories, and admired anyone who can come up with a compelling one even today. Of course it doesn’t quite happen all that often these days to be honest, on the rare such occasion I do feel happy though. Now that I’ve seen M.Padmakumar’s Kanal, it’s only natural for me now to think along these lines.
M.Padmakumar has been making Malayalam films for more than a decade now, most notable among them certainly being Shikkar-The Hunt (2010) which featured Mohanalal in the lead. After a few dismal movies, now Padmakumar has teamed up with Mohanlal once again for his latest film Kanal. Both the films are quite different in terms of style and treatment though and Kanal even boasts of a stellar ensemble cast which includes Anoop Menon and Bollywood actor Atul Kulkarni. The promos unfortunately gave people the impression that this is perhaps a Malayalam version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), a film which has also seen versions in Tamil (Muran) and Telugu (Visakha Express). So I was quite curious indeed to know whether Kanal has turned out to be another success for the Padmakumar-Mohanlal combo and is it better than the recent films of Mohanlal like Lailaa O Lailaa and Loham? So without further ado, let us talk about the film itself.
We see the tale of Kanal unfold during a train journey where John David (Mohanlal) and Anatharaman (Anoop Menon) happen to meet each other. Narrated in non-linear mode, Kanal shuttles between 2009 and the present, as the setting keeps shifting between UAE and India. We get to see how the economic recession of 2009 went on to affect the lives of three individuals, Anantharaman, Raghu Hilltop (Prathap Pothen) and Kuruvila Mathew (Atul Kulkarni). Who are these three people, how are they connected to each other, what are they doing presently and how does John David feature in this tale are all unearthed slowly as the movie progresses. This tale of revenge is credited to a true story as indicated in the opening credits and thankfully Kanal is not another inspired version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951),on hindsight the promos had a red herring on purpose I guess.
Kanal is written by one of Padmakumar’s regular collaborators, S.Suresh Babu who coincidentally is also the writer of Shikkar. It takes some time before the actual element of thrill sets in, the major part of the first half being devoted to Anantharaman and his personal struggles and we get to know why he is on the train. John David’s character remains mysterious for quite some time, but it doesn’t really require you to tax your brain to figure out that there’s something more than what is visible so far. There are some lighter moments initially as we see John David indulging in some friendly banter with people on the train, but those moments are far and few. Post interval the film switches gears a bit as we get to know the real John David and the loose ends get tied up one by one, though it doesn’t get difficult for the audience to guess what lies ahead.
The film has a few songs composed by Ouseppachan and Vinu Thomas, though none of them really make any impact. Technically the film doesn’t look well-polished for some reasons; certain stock shots and shoddy visuals can clearly be seen, perhaps DOP Vinod Illampally had to work with limited resources. Also being a thriller it would have been good if the film actually had a water tight tale and had surprises galore. At a run time of 158 minutes it’s a little too lengthy given the kind of journey the film goes on to take post the interval. Maybe editor Ranjan Abraham and director Padmakumar could have thought through in terms of how to keep the pacing of the narrative a lot more taut, which would have helped given the kind of premise the film starts off with.
Kanal certainly gets it right in terms of the basic plot, just that the end product is let down by the writing and on the technical front. But despite all that it still manages to hold our attention to a large extent and for that the performances are definitely a big reason, in terms of performances the film does score to a large extent. As for the supporting cast, Prathap Pothen and Sheelu Abraham are competent while Nikita Thukral in a return to Malayalam cinema after a long time fits the role quite well. Honey Rose and Atul Kulkarni are effective but have very limited screen time. Innocent and Kochu Preman are there to provide some humour in the film. Anoop Menon gets a lot of scope over here, in fact he gets nearly equal screen time as Mohanlal and he does reasonable justice to the role of a once popular media person, who is now in the dumps. While he may not look all that convincing as the down & out media person, he does carry off the air of dejection quite charmingly.
But as expected the film works to an extent largely due to Mohanlal’s charming presence, especially during the train scenes where he is at his natural best. This is a role that his right up his alley, appropriate to his age and quite in line with what he can carry off effectively now. His character of John David has various shades to it and he makes the transition with ease. This was a film which had a lot of potential, the potential to be a thorough entertainer and a genuine thriller. Ultimately Kanal is a tale of revenge which rises slightly above the mundane, but just about.