Ratsasan Review: Technically admirable but emotionally distant

If I had to pick two fascinating things about Ratsasan, it had to be the film’s editing and the sound design. Ratsasan’s nifty cuts and sound cement the ‘effect first, cause later’ strategy that the cameras and screenplay adopt. One might say that this is the usual modus operandi for a thriller. Well, it isn’t just about the turns that the story takes but also about how they are revealed. In one particular sequence, a suspect holds a police officer at gunpoint in an attempt to escape. As he backs into a lift, we hear a shot and the lift opens to reveal both men on the ground. The suspense lingers a second longer before we get our answer. And Ramkumar’s answers are effectively simple for the part. Take a chase sequence where Kaali Venkat, a cop, is in close pursuit of the killer; the former is on a bike while the latter is in a van. How does one lose the trailing cop? Ramkumar comes up with another ingenious solution – stop the van abruptly.

Ratsasan’s ‘deferred returns’ approach not only applies to people watching the film but also for the people in it. The research Arun (Vishnu Vishal) does for his preferred profession turns out to be of unexpected help in the profession he ends up in. I liked the fact that most of the scenes in Ratsasan have a reason for their existence. There are twists decked organically in the narration, and Ramkumar even packages his lighter moments with apparently minor details that return to surprise you. But the reasons aren’t always credible; some feel forced, and some feel way too convenient. For example, Arun happens to use the same auto he is after; in another moment, another cop ‘accidentally’ crosses path with whom he is pursuing. It isn’t a great lapse of logic, it could happen. But it feels convenient. However, Ratsasan almost always redeems itself with sequences that work way better visually than what would be expected of them on paper; meaning your eyes are glued to the screen more than your mind. This works both ways for the film, a boon, and a bane at the same time. I could appreciate the aesthetics but it didn’t get me pumped enough to scream for the villain’s death. Hence, the final act, being a string of such moments, leaves us emotionally distanced, despite the compelling performances from Munishkanth, Kaali Venkat and Vishnu Vishal himself.

As I was watching, I was reminded of another psycho-killer film, Imaikka Nodigal. Both films are made for the mainstream, but Ratsasan doesn’t indulge as much as Imaikka… does in its commercial trappings. Rather Ram Kumar places his characters as cornerstones for his screenplay. The supporting characters here, including the smaller ones, show some agency. Ratsasan isn’t only about Arun swooping in to save the day; it is also about the girl who remains amazingly sane to escape, when put in a tough situation. Even Viji (Amala Paul) gets a few memorable cinematic moments, even though her character needed more detailing to transcend the template heroine. But, do good sequences automatically add up to a great film?

I wish Ratsasan had adopted a more explorative approach towards the cyclical nature of abuse. There is a demon which is more disturbingly closer to life than the actual antagonist. Had this Ratsasan taken the meta-route, he would have become our villain, leaving us with a question, ‘Do we really acknowledge the demons amid us?’ But as it stands, we have a straight-forward thriller where the sum of the total feels lesser than its parts.

This was originally written for The New Indian Express.  You can find it here.

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