(Minor spoiler alert!)
The trailer for Akshay Kumar’s latest Cuttputlli promised a serial killer drama brimming with intrigue and yet, the final product leaves much to be desired.
Akshay is Arjan Sethi, an aspiring filmmaker-turned-cop is a repository of any news about serial killings: be it in India or abroad. This insight comes in handy when the possibility of a serial killer being active in Kasauli arises.
Arjan is the typical trope of a ‘good cop’ stuck between ‘bad cops’: he refuses to hit people, helps people on the way whenever he can…you get the drift.
Beyond this, the film makes little sense – a good premise somehow also translates to a decent plot but it sways around without an anchor.
While the amalgamation of different genres with horror or thriller has the potential to be successful, sometimes even bringing the finished project up a notch (think Only Murders in the Building, the Fear Street trilogy, or Alia Bhatt’s Darlings), in Cuttputlli it feels like two films are being streamed at once.
The character of Divya, played by Rakul Preet Singh, is a school teacher and plays a rather important role in the investigation and its outcome but instead of working on the character as such, a lot of her time on screen (however well-performed) is spent being a love interest.
Even Sargun Mehta’s impressive presence as the SHO Parmar comes off as promising at first before the reality sets in: the character lacks enough layers to truly stand out.
The film only works when it focuses on its strength as a thriller…almost. A sadistic serial killer without a motive is not a new concept to have in films of the genre and Cuttputlli relies on shock value to inspire empathy (one must assume).
The reprehensibility of the murders is evident from the images of the dolls and even the autopsy findings but the film still shows glimpses of young girls being brutally attacked.
It’s disturbing mainly because, for years, crimes against women (or other minority groups) aren’t dealt with with sensitivity or any understanding of similar trauma.
Once again, I must touch back upon Darlings which dealt with a theme like domestic abuse with restraint and expertise without losing out on the sense of terror it aimed to inspire.
Even while dealing with the theme of sexual and physical assault, Ranjit Tewari’s Cuttputlli employs the flawed execution of the adage ‘show, don’t tell’.
Is this because it doesn’t trust its audience or because it must hammer in how distressing the crimes are so the macho hero can swoop in and save the day?
Akshay Kumar plays Arjan with an ease that perhaps comes with his experience but even that can’t make up for a plot that soon becomes way too convenient – almost as if the story, too, is bending over backwards to serve the hero’s journey.
A truly impressive thriller relies on its ability to create a landscape and a plot that keeps the audience engaged.
Not only that, it doesn’t need to rely on harmful tropes like hiding its ‘suspense’ in characters who aren’t straight, or typically masculine, or able-bodied – tropes that Hollywood has been criticised for across decades even in cult classic horror films like Silence of the Lambs and Psycho.
Indian cinema is no stranger to truly gripping thriller films – there’s Kajol-starrer Gupt, Urmila Matondkar’s Kaun, Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah-starrer Jalsa, Pushkar–Gayathri’s Suzhal, Fahadh Faasil-starrer Irul, and much more.
Maybe that’s why it’s disappointing to see a glimpse into what could have been when compared to the end product.
Cuttputlli is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Rating: 2 Quints out of 5