Kerala Crime Files review: Malayalam web series stands out for attention to detail
For an industry that has created a lot of buzz in the cinematic universe with the advent of OTT platforms, the lack of streaming content in the form of web series in Malayalam was always baffling.
‘Kerala Crime Files’, now streaming on Disney+Hotstar, has to be the first mainstream attempt at creating a web series in Malayalam – and it totally lives up to its billing. Neatly packaged and divided into six episodes with a duration of under 30 minutes, ‘Kerala Crime Files’ has set the bar very high for other streaming content in the pipeline.
Starring Aju Varghese, Lal and a bevy of fresh faces, ‘Kerala Crime Files’ is notable for its rigorous attention to detail, something many up-and-coming Malayalam filmmakers do not focus adequately on. The series is a police procedural unfolding over six days in six episodes following the murder of a sex worker in a cheap lodge in Kochi in 2011.
‘Kerala Crime Files’ has enough references to that era, from the release of the ensemble movie ‘Traffic’ (which went on to become a sleeper hit and heralded the new wave of Malayalam cinema) to the inauguration of the Vallarpadam Container Transshipment Terminal by then prime minister Manmohan Singh and the Assembly polls.
Setting the series in that period also meant that there is less dependency on technology and more reliance on orthodox ways of investigation.
The theme would make Malayalam film connoisseurs instantly recall the cult classic ‘Ee Kanni Koodi’ (1990), a slow burn police procedural itself, from an earlier era, directed by master craftsman KG George. Although there are some similarities in the method of investigation and the identity of the victim, ‘Kerala Crime Files’ carves its own distinct stamp as the series progresses.
According to writer Ashiq Aimar and director Ahammed Khabeer, real events do not inspire the series, but at the same time it turns out to be an extremely realistic attempt at scripting and execution.
Khabeer, known for his earlier films such as ‘June’ (2019) and ‘Madhuram’ (2021), makes his foray into directing a series in a completely different genre – to great success. The series ends with enough indication that a second season may already be in the works.
What sets Kerala Crime Files apart
What sets ‘Kerala Crime Files’ apart from recent Malayalam cinematic offerings is the kind of minute detailing that has gone into it. ‘Kerala Crime Files’ scores brownie points on this count alone, like the film ‘Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey’ (2022), notable for the same rigour in recent times.
There are no cutting corners and the realistic performances of a fresh cast give the proceedings all the more authenticity. There is a notable scene where a cop in Neendakara checks with a local Communist leader about the fake address of Shiju – the Left veteran claims confidently that no such person exists, unless he is someone who is not part of the voters’ list.
Unlike ‘Ee Kanni Koodi’ which was a quest into the unknown, ‘Kerala Crime Files’ sets out on the chase of a suspect right from the onset. The antagonist is built up as a mysterious and perverse figure, with only a fake address – Shiju, Parayil House, Neendakara (which also serves as the subtitle of the series) – and he has a squint eye as clues to track him down.
The series does not keep the initial momentum throughout as it progresses, but it is nonetheless evenly paced and, there are enough twists at the end of each episode to keep the viewer hooked. There isn’t anything out of the ordinary to make the audience willingly suspend disbelief, but ‘Kerala Crime Files’ doesn’t need to do that. The climax is a bit underwhelming after all the build-up, but it’s a logical outcome all the same.
The investigation is neatly interspersed with nuggets from the personal lives of the investigation team, which make the cops much more relatable. Not that the cops are made to look like saints, as one incident pertaining to a wrongly apprehended (and politically-connected) suspect’s framing incident shows how cases are often thrust on people to save trouble for cops themselves.
Aju Varghese, a revelation
Just as ‘Ee Kanni Koodi’ turned out to be one of the best performances of actor Saikumar, Aju Varghese gets an opportunity of a lifetime while enacting the character of sub-inspector Manoj, and he comes through with flying colours.
‘Kerala Crime Files’ rides on his shoulders and though he is ably supported by Lal and other characters, the series would not have turned out the way it did if Aju had not done justice to it.
This writer recalls a taunt that actor Suraj Venjaramood directed at Aju at an event a few years ago, referring to the latter as “veeppakkutty” (drum), albeit playfully. Not only has Aju lost considerable weight, but he has also been experimenting with roles and playing varied characters lately, following in Suraj’s track at reinventing himself.
‘Kerala Crime Files’ will surely turn out to be a turning point in Aju’s acting career.
That Aju who measures all of 162 cm will fail to qualify as a sub-inspector in Kerala police (falling short by five inches) may be forgiven in the process. Those with SC/ST status can still qualify, but Aju’s character is not given such a detail, whereas a civil police officer (constable) played by Navas Vallikkunnu in the team has a portrait of Ayyankali hanging in his home.
Lal, too, exercises restraint and puts in a decent performance, along with the rest of the cast. The taut editing and cinematography all add up to make it a great watch, along with the fantastic BGM rustled up by Hesham Abdul Wahab. A minor quibble are some newer car models (most notably a Hyundai Xcent, launched in 2014) making it to the screen, which was totally avoidable.
‘Kerala Crime Files’ ticks almost all boxes, and this writer greatly recommends Ee Kanni Koodi (which is available on Disney+Hotstar) to those pining for more after watching this series.