Ever since various OTT platforms waltzed into our lives, the Indian cinema space has been booming, for it has given viewers a plethora of options to choose from. With access to foreign content, the demand for gritty storytelling coupled with drama suddenly increased. This led to Indian makers jumping into this genre, which gave us shows like Sacred Games, Delhi Crime, Mirzapur, and Paatal Lok, to name a few. Just last week, Disney+ Hotstar forayed into the Telugu language web series with Shaitan, and Prime Video in 2022 gave us Suzhal: The Vortex, a Tamil language murder investigation story. With regional cinema, especially from the south, being the talk of the town, Disney+ Hotstar’s brand new Malayalam language police investigation thriller Kerala Crime Files is here for you to understand how a murder case turns into a chase to catch the culprit.
The plot of Kerala Crime Files revolves around the murder of a sex worker whose dead body was found inside a room of a shady-looking lodge in the city of Cochin. Everything for the investigation team led by Circle Inspector Kurien and Sub Inspector Manoj is going right, and they are on the verge of cracking this case, except the team ends up arresting the wrong person. This debacle does not stop the police from pursuing the culprit based on one prime witness who claims to have seen the killer. This six-episode series chronicles the six days spent by the team trying to find and arrest the culprit. Will the police be successful in doing so?
The screenplay of Kerala Crime Files is plain and straightforward, and right from the beginning, it dives into the crime and the police conduct all the standard procedures just to be able to gather initial findings. The narrative is simple because there is no over-the-top theatrics about the entire procedure from the start until the end. Though each episode only runs for 26 minutes, they’re packed with enough detail for the viewers to understand what goes behind such murder cases that do not involve any high-profile personalities. In passing, some characters mentioned that there is no pressure to solve this murder, but this statement is a double-edged sword because carrying out other basic procedures as a part of investigations takes time, which implies that even dead bodies are discriminated against. This thought comes out beautifully in the narrative. Thankfully, the police treat it as a murder case without showing any bias and look for the culprit, even though they face many setbacks. The writer’s confusing and sketchy narrative makes the show partly engaging and underwhelming at the same time.
The screenplay had the potential to become a dark, twisted tale of an individual who thrived on their notoriety, but there is not much done to make the viewer feel troubled by the killer’s actions. What the writer Ashiq Aimar got right was explaining the lack of boundaries between the personal and professional lives of the police officers, with many of them visibly complaining about it, but there is no solution in sight. Young men and women join the force to get a stable income but, in that process, lose one of the crucial aspects of life. Ashiq Aimar also stays away from shaming women who get into prostitution and how they are treated as a nobody by society and the people who pay for their services. They are subjected to physical and sexual assaults, rendering their pain endless. But here, the police come across as heartwarming people who want to help them get justice, which is a refreshing change of narrative. The red herring in the case is executed well, which is the kind of twist we expect from an engaging investigative thriller.
Kerala Crime Files has its share of negatives. The investigation procedure seems too fast, and there is no space to breathe as new leads crop up, taking the team closer to the culprit. But as quickly as they gather information, is it that easy to do this task, or have commercial films ruined our idea of how a murder investigation is done? This has probably nothing to do with perception but only the screenplay. The investigation concluded quickly, but it could have been presented more tightly. There are also questions regarding the use of the term psycho killer by an investigative officer without any conclusive evidence to prove his claims. This term could have been avoided because mental health is a delicate issue, but again, it does not justify murder. The writer and director could have been mindful of not labeling the culprit in the narrative.
Even though the ending of Kerala Crime Files was convincing and engaging, many crucial answers regarding the concluding narrative are not answered, which is a goof-up from the makers of the show. Since this is a spoiler-free review, nothing more than that could be discussed in this article about the climactic events of the show. The direction by Ahammed Kabeer is decent, but it does not leave any lasting impression. The use of flashback scenes in this show is also decent. Many shows in several genres use this trope, but Ahammed Kabeer executes it with enough intensity to not make the audience seem like fools. No writer or filmmaker should spoon-feed the audience, especially when it comes to investigative drama. This is the standard unwritten rule.
Despite its drawbacks, Kerala Crime Files is filled with some stellar performances, especially by the leads, who stop at nothing to arrest the killer. Aju Varghese as Manoj and Lal as Kurien get into the skin of the ordinary police officers who are just here to do their job. But thankfully, here, the story takes precedence over the performances, which seems acceptable in this case because their work means dealing with such cases frequently, if not daily.
It is hard not to notice how similar Kerala Crime Files is to Netflix India’s Delhi Crime. The narrative in both shows is about carrying out investigation procedures without any drama and humanizing the police and the work they do. There is a sense of normalcy that makes Kerala Crime Files a well-grounded show, for it ends with the team being assigned another case to work on setting it up for the next season. As a viewer, it would be interesting to see how the same team goes ahead and starts working on a new case of a different nature, hopefully with a different narrative. Give Kerala Crime Files your time. This one is worth a watch.