‘King of Kotha’ Review: Dulquer Salmaan Film Has the Makings of a Cult Classic

On the face of it, King of Kotha seems like the perfect flick to be a vehicle for an actor’s preexisting or imminent superstardom. It also helps that Dulquer Salmaan seems to fit perfectly within this massy world. 

Abhilash Joshiy’s debut directorial written by Abhilash N Chandran takes place in the fictional town of Kotha where a man called Raju is a living legend. The film uses several tropes familiar of the gangster film genre (borrowing heavily from action and horror movies as well) and while some are given a fresh touch, others bog down the film with their predictability. 

For instance, you’d think that a villain Ranjith wouldn’t get much in terms of character work considering he is just a pawn in a much bigger game. But Chemban Vinod Jose’s character is crafted with meticulous attention to detail, making him unforgettable even after he exits the main narrative. Likewise, a plot involving an older woman and her cat is unsettlingly heartbreaking. 

Dulquer Salmaan in a still from King of Kotha.

One of the cliches that works better than some others is the trope of a friendship turning into a bitter rivalry, especially as it culminates into a showdown between the people’s hero and their tormentor. Raju Madrassi aka Kotha Rajrandran aka the ‘King of Kotha’ (Salmaan) faces off with Kannan Bhai (Shabeer Kallarakkal) in what quickly becomes a series of murders and gun fights with little else to say. 

While Raju was at the top, he was a terrifying gangster with no qualms about resorting to graphic violence but he drew the line at drug trafficking. The reason isn’t presented as some moral roadblock; he simply doesn’t want to do it because of his girlfriend Tara’s (Aishwarya Lekshmi) personal aversion to drugs. This, as it often does in gangster films, becomes the bone of contention between Raju and Kannan. 

Shabeer Kallarakkal in a still from King of Kotha.

Even some soft moments of camaraderie between the duo that deserved more substance in the film don’t get that treatment in service of the film’s larger arc. Scenes like this, including the one where the duo reunites over a drink, speaking to each other in veiled threats, and then meets again on a football field like when they were younger, are written well as concepts. 

But weak dialogues derail the emotional depth. This is a problem that persists across the film. Scenes that could’ve had a huge effect are derailed by weak dialogue. 

Dulquer Salmaan as Raju (playing the character in two different avatars decades apart) proves that he has what it takes to carry a film like this on his shoulders. He performs like a ‘hero’ in every vanity shot and finds the perfect balance between his moral dilemmas and emotions and his legacy as the ‘King of Kotha’.

Dulquer Salmaan in a still from King of Kotha.

All his entry shots (there are multiple) still hold their mass appeal because of two reasons: one is Salmaan himself and the second is the film’s production. 

Nimesh M Thanoor and his team construct Kotha so beautifully that it is difficult to believe the town doesn’t actually exist. Their attention to detail, especially in technical aspects like lighting, texture, and colour, is absolutely phenomenal. Every frame looks so diligently sketched out that it almost makes you wish you could sit and stare at some of the scenes for a bit. 

One of my favourite scenes is one where Raju is fighting off goons and Kannan’s wife Manju (Nyla Usha) sits back in her car and watches. Every single thing about that scene, including the action choreography, is proof that King of Kotha is saved primarily by its acting and expert technical endeavour. 

Dulquer Salmaan in a still from King of Kotha.

Not to be forgotten, Nyla Usha makes a lasting impact as Manju, despite being another character in the film who gets bogged down by gangster film clichés. In the film’s clearly superior first half, Manju gets an extremely intriguing arc – you wonder what she could be hiding, what her motivations could be, if her loyalties truly lie anywhere other than her own self and why. 

This is partly because Nyla Usha has the femme fatale act down like a pro. She carries herself with an almost chilling grace throughout the film, her conviction as an actor mirrors in her conviction as Manju. If the dialogue and screenplay would’ve supported that act, she could’ve gone down as a cult character.

Nyla Usha in a still from King of Kotha.

In gangster and action flicks, women have long had roles that existed just to further the hero’s arc or give him a reason to rage, fight, or ‘change himself’ (King of Kotha has some of those characters too). While that is slowly changing, it’s still rare to see an actually well-written female character in the genre who doesn’t immediately die or give up in service of the bigger ‘hero’s journey’.

Here’s hoping someone is brave enough to take Manju from being a mere catalyst to becoming a proper villain in her own right. 

That being said, Shabeer Kallarakkal gives a strong performance as the amoral and sometimes amusing Kannan. After acing the role of “Dancing Rose” in Sarpatta Parambarai, he presents new shades of himself as an actor even if both his roles rest in the same thematic vein.

Cinematographer Nimish Ravi expertly navigates the town of Kotha and bolsters the gorgeous frames designed by the production team through his lens. A particularly inventive scene wherein a fight sequence takes the form of a FPS (first-person shooter) game is made possible primarily because of Joshiy’s vision and Nimish Ravi’s efforts. 

A still from King of Kotha.

The best thing about the direction is that Joshiy seems to be attempting to rise above the limitations of the genre. After Raju is presumed dead (this isn’t a spoiler because he is presumed dead very often), his return is shot like we’re in a horror flick. This Raju is no longer the man, the king and instead becomes more like his identity of a myth, a legend. 

Is this man real? Is this suddenly a ghost flick? Who can tell? And it’s in this interesting ‘who can tell’ area that Joshiy’s vision shines. 

King of Kotha had the potential to be a truly innovative effort and join the ranks of some of the best that the gangster genre has to offer. But a tighter script (even one that followed the ingenuity of its own first half) would’ve sealed a much better fate for the film in the hall of film fame, whatever or wherever that is. 

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First Day First Show | 69th National Film Awards, ‘RRR’ bags six honours

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Around Tinsel Town

>> ‘RRR’, ‘Rocketry: The Nambi Effect’, ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ win big at 69th National Film Awards

The 69th National Film Awards were announced with RRR, Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, Gangubai Kathiawadi andSardar Udham winning inmajor categories. Telugu star Allu Arjun was adjudged best actor for his larger-than-life performance in Pushpa: The Rise (Part I). Alia Bhatt and Kriti Sanon were named best actress for Gangubai Kathiawadi and Mimi respectively. Meanwhile, The Kashmir Files, directed by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, won the Nargis Dutt award for best film on national integration.

Bollywood

Kareena Kapoor Khan’s streaming debut titled ‘Jaane Jaan

Veteran actor Seema Deo passes away at 81

Sunny Deol’s ‘Gadar 2’ makes a killing at the box office

Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Kennedy’ closes Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023

Kajol and Kriti Sanon-led ‘Do Patti’ goes on floors

Tiger Shroff wraps up futuristic actioner ‘Ganapath: Part 1’

Neeraj Pandey’s crime thriller series ‘Khakhee’ renewed for new season

Mani Ratnam says he hasn’t seen ‘Dil Se..’ since release

Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s ‘Haddi’ to stream from September 7

Hollywood

Zack Snyder hypes extended director’s cut of ‘Rebel Moon’

‘Dune: Part Two’ postponed due to Hollywood strikes

‘This Is Us’ actor Ron Cephas Jones dies at 66

‘The Peripheral’, ‘A League of Their Own’ cancelled by Prime Video due to Hollywood strikes

James Gunn denies ‘Superman: Legacy’ is an origin story

Jennifer Aniston criticizes cancel culture

‘And Just Like That…’ to return with season three on Max

Regional Cinema

Dhanush, Arun Matheswaran to reteam after ‘Captain Miller’

Mari Selvaraj to helm ‘SOS – Straight Outta Sunnambu Kaalvai’ series

Mohanlal, Jeethu Joseph’s ‘Neru’ goes on floors 

Arya, Gautham Karthik begin shooting for ‘Mr X’

Mammootty’s next, ‘Bramayugam’, goes on floors

Chiranjeevi, director Vassishta to team for their next

Nidhhi Agerwal joins Prabhas’ ‘Raja Deluxe

‘777 Charlie’ adjudged best Kannada film

Darshan, Prem to collaborate after 20 years

World Cinema

Fawad Khan leads Netflix’s first Pakistan-themed original

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai to star in ‘Silent Friend’ by Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi

Dave Bautista, Jason Momoa to star in ‘Blue Beetle’ director’s next

Trailers

Ravi Teja aims for pan India reach in ‘Tiger Nageswara Rao’ teaser

Anushka, Naveen promise a hearty, relevant, and fun rom-com in ‘Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty’ trailer

Kim Kardashian, Emma Roberts pilot a pregnancy horror in ‘American Horror Story: Delicate’ teaser

Gael García Bernal packs a punch in ‘Cassandro’ trailer

Trailer of ‘Reptile’, starring Benicio Del Toro, Justin Timberlake, out

Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s ‘Haddi’ trailer out; film to debut on ZEE5 in September

Babil Khan leads this coming-of-age story in ‘Friday Night Plan’ trailer

Vemal brings action-heavy masala entertainer in ‘Thudikkum Karangal’ trailer

Teaser out of Bejoy Nambiar’s new series ‘Kaala’

Trailer of Yogi Babu’s ‘Lucky Man’ out

New in streaming

New on Netflix in August: Manga series adaptation One Piece, Raj and DK’s crime comedy Guns & Gulaabs, Depp v. Heard docu series and more

New on Disney+ Hotstar in August: Season 1 of Ahsoka, Season 4 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Cuando Frank Conocio a Carlitos, and more

Coming to Apple TV+: Season 2 of Invasion, Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starrer Flora and Son, documentary Wanted: The Escape of Carlos Ghosn, and more

New on Amazon Prime Video this week: Nostalgic family drama Aachar & Co., jazz documentary Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity, and more

Essential reading

1) Shooting Rajinikanth: ‘Jailer’ cinematographer Vijay Kartik Kannan on the technique behind the fanfare

>> The cinematographer talks about reuniting with Nelson for Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer’ and why he wanted each frame to resemble photographs

2) Vijay Deverakonda: I learnt words like ‘misogyny’ and ‘feminist’ only recently

>> The actor on his upcoming film ‘Kushi’ with Samantha Ruth Prabhu, and if he identifies as a feminist

3) Dulquer Salmaan on ‘King of Kotha’ and why he became a movie producer

>> The star talks about his upcoming big-budget film, breaking the ‘romance hero’ tag, and more

4) Shivarajkumar interview: On his cameo in Rajinikanth’s ‘Jailer,’ and letting his eyes do all the talking

>> The Kannada superstar opens up on sharing screen with Rajinikanth and why gangster roles are a natural fit for him

5) Rakshit Shetty: ‘Sapta Sagaradaache Ello’ marks a new beginning in my acting career

>> The actor along with Hemanth M Rao talks about making an intense romantic drama, and why they split it into two parts

6) Mrinal Sen, the contrarian: A son’s perspective

>> An interview with Kunal Sen on his new book ‘Bondhu’, which offers an intimate portrait of his late father

7) On ‘The Kashmir Files: Unreported, ‘Gadar 2’ and ‘OMG 2’: The anatomy of hate narratives and a reason for hope

>> A piece on the detrimental influence of negative and propagandist media content and the urgency of positive narratives

8) Director Clax: ‘Bedurulanka 2012’ is an entertaining social satire, not an experimental film

>> The debutant on the varied inspirations behind his feature, ranging from Seven Samurai to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead

9) Team ‘Behind Your Touch’ on the K-Drama’s ‘com-rom’ tag, understanding their characters, and more

>> Korean filmmaker Kim Sok Yun and team talk about their latest collaboration and how it came to fruition

10) Reinventing Mona Singh

>> The multi-faceted actor talks about slipping back into the limelight with the second season of ‘Made in Heaven’

11) Director Amit Rai on ‘OMG 2’ and living with the djinn

>> The writer-director talks about how he turned a provocative subject into an entertaining and educative experience

What to watch

1) Dulquer Salmaan’s gangster flick ‘King of Kotha’ is held down by its script

Read the full review here

2) In ‘Gran Turismo’, a decent underdog story gets bogged down by cliches and product placement

Read the full review here

3) Ayushmann Khurrana dresses and messes with a garish glee in ‘Dream Girl 2’

Read the full review here

4) ‘Adiyae’ is a campy sci-fi rom-com that keeps getting worse

Read the full review here

5) In ‘Akelli’, Nushrratt Bharuccha gets lost in a predictable maze

Read the full review here

6) ‘Star Wars’ spin-off series ‘Ahsoka’ is bright, tight and terribly thrilling 

Read the full review here

7) ‘The Queen Mary’ flounders in a murky sea of B-movie clichés

Read the full review here

8) Safe, sweet thrills in YA series ‘Harlan Coben’s Shelter’

Read the full review here

9) ‘Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine’ finds comfort in the familiar

Read the full review here

10) ‘Kayo Kayo Colour’ is a striking debut feature by Shahrukhkhan Chavada

Read the full review here

11) ‘RDX’ delivers no-holds-barred action and nothing more

Read the full review here

12) ‘Retribution’ makes for a fun ride with Liam Neeson

Read the full review here

13) ‘Gandeevadhari Arjuna’ is well-intentioned but needed a smarter script

Read the full review here

14) ‘Bedurulanka 2012’ is partly amusing, partly patience testing

Read the full review here

15) ‘Toby’ is a stylised, dark revenge saga that grapples with predictability

Read the full review here

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