Cast: Akshay Kumar, Rakul Preet Singh, Chandrachur Singh, Sargun Mehta
Director: Ranjit M Tewari
Rating: One and a half stars
Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Yes, yes, we know that. But what about too much of a bad thing? Well, if Akshay Kumar’s fourth release in eight months, Cuttputlli on Disney+Hotstar is anything to go by, it is wearisome. That is exactly what this crime thriller is – a wasted effort.
Cuttputlli – do not ask what the spelling of the title the way it is, we have no way of knowing – is as dull as ditchwater. The writer (Aseem Arrora) and the director (Ranjit M. Tewari) spare no effort to ensure that even a serial killer on the loose does not arouse any dread or suspense.
In the opening sequence, a gentleman walking his dog in Parwanoo stumbles upon a badly mutilated body of a schoolgirl left on a streetside bench. Soon after, another girl is kidnapped. She ends up dead too and is found similarly brutalised in another public place. The sleepy small town that has never seen anything other than petty crime goes into a tizzy.
The lead actor, cast as a filmmaker-turned-policeman, takes charge of the investigation without so much as a by-your-leave and runs the procedural to the ground. As the probe progresses, he mouths inanities about how history proves that a serial killer is bound to make a mistake sooner or later. But as things transpire, it is the town’s police force that is more prone to errors than the serial killer that they are out to nab.
An official remake of the 2018 Tamil film Ratsasan, Cuttputlli is too devoid of imagination to deviate from the original. Comparisons are usually odious but in this case they are inevitable. Not that Ratsasan was an earthshaking, difficult-to-replicate affair, but Cuttputlli is an unabashedly cut-price version of the original. It is an exasperatingly vapid thriller that knows not what to do with the jigsaw-puzzle pieces at its disposal.
As the film bumbles along with all the insipidity it can muster, not one character manages to establish a connect with the audience. The hero, Arjan Sethi, a filmmaker who has been planning a dark thriller on the psychology of serial killers for seven years, is forced to abort when one Punjabi producer after another refuses to play ball.
His brother-in-law Narinder Singh (Chandrachur Singh) helps Arjan land a police job in Kasauli. His supposedly painstaking research on serial killers – he has a heap of newspaper clippings to show for his effort – comes in handy when a series of murders take place in Himachal Pradesh’s Parwanoo and Kasauli.
Schoolgirls are kidnapped and their mutilated bodies are left in public places along with a severed head of a doll neatly packed in a gift box. The teeth are broken, the eyes gouged out and the hair ripped off. The killer is obviously a psychopath but when Arjan verbalizes the word he does it with a flourish of a scientist who has made a discovery that is going to change the world.
SHO Gudiya Parmar (Sargun Mehta) is sceptical about Arjan’s sleuthing acumen, but, with a little bit of help from his sister Seema’s (Hrishita Bhatt) husband, the persistent rookie with a know-all air about him bamboozles his way into the case.
Everybody quickly takes a backseat for this is Akshay Kumar’s film and he will let nothing – not the plot nor any sense of narrative balance – get in the way of his grand design to emerge as the brightest and bravest of the lot. A whole lot of monotony is the inevitable result. Too much a bad thing… has never done a film any good.
As if he doesn’t have his hands full already, Sub-Inspector Arjan Sethi has a romantic interest too in the form of English teacher Divya (Rakul Preet Singh), who barring an inconsequential scene or two, is not allowed to be anything more than an appendage. That is actually true of the film as a whole – it plays second fiddle to a star who has decided not only to churn out a film a month but also to put himself in every frame of every film that he is in.
So, since attention isn’t supposed to waver away from Akshay Kumar, the real purpose of Cuttputlli gets the short shrift. The crimes are extremely brutal and the victims are innocent schoolgirls. The audience and the police should freeze in horror given the grisly nature of the killings. But at no point in the film do the cops look agitated or shocked enough to spring out of their stupor and act like a force that is under tremendous pressure to rid the town of the serial killer.
Cuttputlli is the sort of film in which the cops are a clueless bunch who seem to be preparing for a mock drill on the morrow rather than chasing a deranged murderer. One suspect is identified but, unsurprisingly, it turns out to be a false alarm. The film gets extended by another hour. When the climax is eventually upon us, it is as underwhelming as anything else in the film.
What’s worse, the setting isn’t factored into the plot to the extent that could allow it to acquire some sort of centrality. Given that the camera never veers away from the ubiquitous male lead,Cuttputllicould have been set anywhere in the world and it would have probably looked and felt the same.
With serial killers coming out of the Bollywood woodwork of late, any film of this genre needs to find fresh narrative methods in order to break free from the clutter. Cuttputlliis a slave to old habits and springing even mild surprises is beyond it.