The opening segment of Prasanth Varma’s Kalki provides a glimpse of the zamindari system and the rulers of Kollapur in Telangana, and how it flourished under the nawabs of Hyderabad. However, after the fall of the Hyderabad state, a local thug usurper becomes the MLA of the region. The backstory is crucial to the exploitation and oppression of the people and sets the tone for the rest of the narrative. And by the time Kalki (Rajasekhar) lands in Kollapur, we understand that the stakes are quite high and it’s not going to be a cakewalk for him. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the very few interesting segments in the film as Kalki struggles to maintain the momentum and intrigue behind some gruesome murders. Everything that made the film interesting evaporates by the time you see the first glimpse of Kalki himself.
The film begins with the killing of Sekhar Babu (Siddhu Jonnalagadda) which causes great distress to the people of Kollapur. We are told that ever since he returned to town, there’s been peace in the region. So, when he dies under mysterious circumstances, his elder brother blames his arch rival for his murder. Mayhem ensues and lots of people get killed. To investigate the truth behind the murder, an IPS officer, Kalki (Rajasekhar) is sent to Kollapur. The rest of the story is about how Kalki, along with a journalist (Rahul Ramakrishna), cracks the case.
Kalki could have been a perfect followup film after Rajasekhar took everyone by surprise in PSV Garuda Vega, where he played an NIA officer. But Kalki is anything but interesting. It relies so much on sound effects and slow motion shots to hype up the hero that at one point, it feels like you are just watching a showreel of Rajasekhar. The film brings back plenty of memories of Rajamouli’s Vikramarkudu, especially in terms of how it portrays its antagonists and their cruelty. However, comparisons between the two films end there. Kalki is no Vikram Rathod. He’s way too smart and has the speed to dodge bullets and beat goons to pulp. He might very well be Neo from The Matrix, teleported to Kollapur.
The biggest issue with the film is that it digresses a lot after setting up everything that it wants the protagonist to explore, and some of the characters are either poorly written or just plain annoying. The first victim is Rahul Ramakrishna himself, who is shown as a coward, but his characterisation is both annoying and clownish. Then, there are quite a few supporting characters which exist only to mislead the audience and the protagonist. Although this technique is characteristic to investigative dramas, it also tests your patience. Even the love story between Rajasekhar and Adah Sharma is underwhelming. Adah, who plays a doctor, has a good backstory and her conflict with Rajasekhar is well staged; however, the silence between the two characters doesn’t help. And it’s not your fault if you end up thinking that she’s reduced to a shadow in his life.
In terms of how the film is narrated, Prasanth Varma tries his best to build a mythology around the protagonist since he is named Kalki, the 10th avatar of Vishnu. So, there are customary nods to him being Parasuram, Krishna, Rama and other avatars when needed. Kalki is portrayed as a modern avatar of God who will annihilate all evil. Now, all this comes through in the film quite well and Rajasekhar makes his mark in the action sequences, in particular. The most dramatic aspect of Kalki is simply treated as an epilogue and by then, you don’t even know if you have to root for the lead character.
There are plenty of references to dharma, karma, and reincarnation in this investigative drama. By the end of the film, you are left wondering if the film had a destiny of its own or if it could have taken a different route to engage us into its world. Because clearly, this is an underwhelming film which is never in control of its momentum, and once Kalki enters the scene, it makes no effort to build the stakes higher for him. When you know that the protagonist has nothing to lose or he’s simply too good compared to everyone else around him, there’s hardly anything that makes him human. The film becomes boring even as it tries to whip up emotion through some dramatic sound effects. The backstory of Kollapur deserved a better ending. The teaser of Kalki deserved a better film.