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What The... short film review

★★★

Directed by: #SarinKumar

Written by: #SarinKumar


 

No matter how old or responsible we become, we always hold a grudge against our childhood tormenters. Reunions in adulthood are often fraught with clenched teeth and withheld grudges as we are all expected to put the past behind us, despite those formative years leaving lasting scars. Whilst we all would like to avoid these awkward moments, the two stars of What The… go to measures that even the most vengeful of us might find extreme.


Karthi (Kiran Dev) is blindsided by his friend Kathir (Attul), who requisitions him for a catch-up with an old schoolmate, Rocky (Stevie Sunny). Karthi is in no mood to meet up with Rocky, who bullied him as a kid, but Kathir needs his assistance to network with their old foe in order to secure work in Dubai. Over a few drinks, the trio reminisce over old times. But when Rocky takes a step too far, Karthi decides to stand up for himself. The aftermath leaves the two friends in a sticky situation, which a mysterious cop (Radhakrishnan G) may be able to help them with…


A cynical and at-times sinister Indian black comedy, What The… starts out as a heavy, tension-filled drama which lives up to its title as it slides into absurdity towards the conclusion. It is a curious project, which is quite successful at portraying an intense and complex relationship between abuser and abused that would not look out of place in a serious drama or action movie, whilst also delivering some genuine laughs throughout which are firmly in comedy farce territory. But despite succeeding with both ends of the scale, the duality at the film’s heart – which wants to be taken deadly serious one moment before ridiculing itself the next, often feels jarring.


The film’s first half in which Karthi and Kathir meet with Rocky, is easily its strongest, and is much heavier on the dramatic side. Director Sarin Kumar effectively builds tension between Rocky and Karthi, gradually closing in on the pair in Rocky’s apartment until audiences will feel claustrophobic as both men get close to snapping. Rocky’s psychological abuse of Karthi is disturbingly realistic, echoing the real abilities of bullies who gaslight their victims. However, as their argument escalates, the film becomes rather contrived as it furthers the story. Plot developments just seem to happen TO the characters, rather than result from their actions. Whilst this is acceptable on occasion, it feels as though the director is hesitant to have his characters act at times. Whereas this is one source of the film’s humour, it would have been much funnier for audiences to laugh at the characters and their actions, rather than purely the crazy situations they end up in.


The cast are excellent, and the performances key in executing the far-fetched plot. Kiran Dev and Attul both anchor the film as everymen in way over their heads, both equally sympathetic and amusing. Stevie Sunny deserves special praise as the psychotic Rocky – who has clearly matured only into a more terrifying version of the bully Karthi remembers. Radhakrishnan G’s mysterious policeman is enigmatic and threatening, but his performance suffers from the confusing nature of the film by the time of his introduction.


Amusing and original, What The… features great performances and some dark laughs with its absurdity. However, its more serious, and tightly scripted first half points to a superior movie hiding within. Whilst its comedy achieves the key objective of actually being funny, audiences will be left wondering if this tale of scorned schoolmates would have been better off told with a straighter face.


 

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