Madcap caper comedy is a hard thing to pull off. You need a tightly paced script with good gags and actors with great timing...and you need to know where to stop; strain too hard and it falls apart. Unlike the often brilliant and even-in-its-most-indulgent-moments interesting Soodhu Kavvum, 2012's Kalakalapu (KK) is more a "what could have been" good movie than what is.
KK's story introduces us to Seenu (Vimal), a modest day-dreamer struggling to keep afloat a family heirloom restaurant. Each time the fellow thinks his luck has finally changed (he even gets excited at the prospect of a sit-in political protest near his hostelry, which promises thousands of hungry mouths), shit happens and he is in a bigger (ha!) soup than before. His creditors are constantly baying at the door, and even the woman he falls for at first sight (Anjali) turns out to be a food inspector who hands his restaurant a "shape up or shut down" notice. Just when Seenu feels life couldn't get more complicated, his brother Raghu (Shiva) is released from prison. An affable rogue and compulsive gambler, Raghu has no qualms about stealing what is not freely available. He finds his romantic succor in the cook's granddaughter (Oviya), this film's version of what critic Baradwaj Rangan cutely refers to as Tamil cinema's trademark loosu ponnu (bird-brain) heroine. In an ungainly way the script veers between Seenu's efforts to get the restaurant going, differences with Raghu, his love life troubles and the additional complications brought in by the Brownian back-and-forth of a mobile phone case hiding 10 crores worth of diamonds.
KK gets some things right, mainly in its casting. There are no 'superstar' / 'megastar' / 'ilaya thalapathi' names in the roll-call. The male leads Vimal and Shiva are credible middle-of-the-road hero types (no scuplted abs or slow-motion intro shots), and they have great chemistry with each other and the rest of the cast. Even when they are clearly disjointed items there is a lot of spark in the supporting roles: The creditor (Ilavarasu) forced to don a variety of disguises after he is fooled by Raghu into badmouthing the local inspector, the conked constable who becomes a showreel of famous cop impersonations from Tamil movies...of special mention is the modern day YG Mahendran avatar Santhanam as the puffed-up toughie rival to Seenu's affections for his girl. Especially in the second half there are some inspired crazy caper sequences.
But KK could have been a much better film if not for the script letdowns. Several plot lines are left as hanging threads. Not to say that other characters are all well-rounded but the heroines are noticeably underwritten, with more attention to their midriffs than their personalities. The premise of Seenu's flame being a food inspector is only used to generate a spot of comic friction before being entirely dropped; she is later reduced to a hanger-on waiting to be rescued from a forced marriage. Raghu's loosu ponnu is defined more by her outfits than by the writing. Caper films like Soodhu Kavvum and Hindi cinema's 99 also had glam girls, but they were a more seamless part of the plot. The bit about reworking the restaurant as a traditional food joint is also dispensed with in a scene and a song. Santhanam is energetic, but he needed sharper and more substantial material to work with.
As a "movie night with mum" on Netflix however, Kalakalapu is decent entertainment with some chortle-inducing moments amidst the muddled filler.