In Antakshari, a musically inclined police officer hunts for a serial killer in the same manner that a technically polished film chases a convincing story.
Vipin Das’s Malayalam-language thriller, which is out on SonyLIV, fills up its plot holes with superior tech specs. Bablu Aju’s precise framing and Johnkutty’s claustrophobic editing create a gripping narrative set within a grid of deeply embedded violence. Brutality, most of it practised by men, passes vertically down the generations and spreads horizontally through a town in Kerala.
Antakshari is presented by Jeethu Joseph, whose Drishyam is among a healthy list of police procedurals and murder mysteries in Malayalam cinema. The game of the title, in which the last consonant of a song becomes the first consonant of the following song, aptly describes the actions of an unseen killer.
Police officer Das (Saiju Kurup), himself a big fan of antakshari, gets involved when his daughter is attacked by the murderer. Along with the newly enrolled inspector Srinivas (Sudhi Koppa), Das begins to follow a bread crumb trail that winds past Kerala’s caste and class divisions.
The killer could be anyone, from the politician Vasudevan (Vijay Babu), who harasses Das, to the doctor who leers at Das’s wife Chitra (Priyanka Nair) to the men who treat the people in their lives with barely disguised violence. Das battles office politics too as he pores over case files to look for patterns and clues.
The skilfully performed film nods to the cliches of the genre – watch the cat! – and manages to hold on to its secrets for the bulk of its 120-minute runtime. The impact flows chiefly from the crafting, with several hair-raising moments and adroitly scattered red herrings. The overstretched climax causes us to start reflecting on what we have seen and conclude that Antakshari could have been a whole lot better if the writing had matched the filmmaking.