By Pradeep Menon Sep. 02, 2022
Akshay Kumar is the weakest link in a film that rarely makes sense or has you at the edge of your seat.
The July disaster that was the Hindi remake of the 2020 Malayalam film Forensic (an instantly mediocre original) is still fresh in memory. Now, here comes another movie cut from the same cloth. A serial killer remake in which the victims are school going kids, transported from the original southern setting to a hill-station in the north. This is a film with a climax that makes you question not just your last relevant life choice – of committing a couple of hours to this movie – but perhaps a few before that as well. Déjà huh?
I haven’t watched the Tamil original Ratsasan (2018), but it couldn’t have been any better than Cuttputlli, a film that simply shouldn’t have been. Forget the plot, let’s just spend a minute on how the protagonist is set up. Arjan Sethi (Akshay Kumar) is a man yearning to become a filmmaker, someone who has his dream script ready after seven years of intense research and writing. He wants to make a serial killer thriller, but no one is interested in his story. So, he gives up on his motion picture dreams and improbably becomes a police officer instead. This
middle-aged young newly minted cop’s first case involves, obviously, a serial killer on the loose, in Kasauli. He also happens to be a do-gooder of the ultra-sanskaari variety, the kind of creepy-but-cute uncle you would consider taking home to your single aunt. When he isn’t attempting to woo the new schoolteacher in town (Rakul Preet Singh), he spouts pseudo serial killer psychology that is supposed to be his unlikely area of expertise because of his script and background research. (There’s a throwaway reference to a David Fincher movie in there somewhere, obviously.)
The one big red herring a film like this tends to lean on for misdirection is in bad taste, meant to evoke revulsion more than anything else.
The rest of the plot is too juvenile to bother about. The manner in which the kids disappear, the way their grotesque corpses are discovered, the supposed pattern/signature that the murderer leaves behind intentionally – all of it is a yawn-inducing bore. The big revelations at the end of Forensic and Cuttputlli would compete for which is the most hare-brained conclusion for a Hindi thriller movie in recent times. Then again, even by the standards of the serial killer cinematic universe, Cuttputlli is a needlessly graphic film. If the crimes are gruesome, their execution is equally pointless. The one big red herring a film like this tends to lean on for misdirection is in bad taste, meant to evoke revulsion more than anything else. It involves a paedophilia angle that will leave anyone a wee bit squeamish.
Even though Arjan Sethi proclaims that you can beat a serial killer only through mind games and not through brute force, there seems to be little application of the mind by anyone involved in putting this film together. You will likely guess the identity of the killer when they first appear on screen, simply by the way that sequence has been crafted. In his third directorial outing, Ranjit M Tewari (who helmed Lucknow Central (2017) and Bellbottom (2021) before this) serves up a film that trips over itself more often than you can fathom. The protagonist Sethi’s lame expertise in the subject at hand seems like it was inspired by what Jeetu Joseph managed to craft in Drishyam, but it barely features as a significant factor in solving the crime. Instead, it feels like a poor excuse designed to make Kumar the main man in every frame.
Cuttputlli is the sort of film that doesn’t even have the decency to offer you a concrete silver lining in exchange for your time.
Cuttputlli is the sort of film that doesn’t even have the decency to offer you a concrete silver lining in exchange for your time. Still, I managed to find one. Rakul Preet Singh, in a thankless ‘romantic interest’ role, is starting to chip away at the chinks in her craft. Though only incrementally, she is getting a little better with every film. At some point, hopefully someone will cast her in something where she isn’t just used as a prop.
If there was one mystery that did stoke my interest while watching Cuttputlli, it was about how a film shot by one of Indian cinema’s finest contemporary cinematographers ends up looking and feeling so insipid and bland. Rajeev Ravi is an unsung hero, the kind of talent who usually adds an unquantifiable X-factor to every film he shoots, someone whose artistic sensibilities can be glimpsed with the kind of movies he chooses to direct himself. For a change, Ravi shoots something that seems generic, with not a memorable frame in sight for over two-and-something hours. Apart from the fact that Cuttputlli is so awfully similar to Forensic, in general this multiple-murders-in-hill-town is a trope that Indian streaming has been chasing relentlessly for a while now. Candy, Aranyak, The Last Hour all seemed to have that same bleak sense of overhanging mountain dread running all through, and Ravi is able to do scarcely little to make this one stand apart in any way.
Kumar’s work output is inspiring, but after his fourth debacle in the past six months, you can’t help but think about whether the actor should just slow down and stop cashing all those cheques.
Then, of course, there’s Akshay Kumar. Cuttputlli is Kumar’s eighth post-pandemic release, a journey that started in November 2020 with another Disney+ Hotstar film, Laxmii (another Tamil remake, if you can believe it.) Kumar’s work output is inspiring, but after his fourth debacle in the past six months, you can’t help but think about whether the actor should just slow down and stop cashing all those cheques. Make no mistake, he is as committed here as he has been to anything else you’ve seen him in. When he’s screwing up his face, deep in thought, trying to outfox the serial killer; or when he’s out being a romantic Hindi movie hero with an item number in tow; Kumar’s dedication isn’t quite the issue.
The point is that there’s a clear lack of discretion and thought going into these films he’s churning out. When Kareena Kapoor Khan spoke about how if one film with Aamir Khan takes 180 days to shoot, Akshay Kumar would shoot five films in that same period, she conveniently skipped mentioning how six out of those five tend to be just plain terrible. Hopefully, between this release and his next, Kumar can use some of his ample shiny gold for some self-reflection.