At the outset, Shivaji Surathkal is a murder mystery rife with all the makings of one. Once you get into it though, it's a lot more than that, a comment on our society today. This film marks the 101st film of actor Ramesh Aravind. The film's plot and setting are a marked departure from romance and comedy which the actor has won several accolades for.
Director Akash Srivatsa chooses Madikeri, Coorg as the central location of the film, where the film begins. From the first shot, we're told to expect elements of the horror genre. The long winding roads of Coorg, the darkness of the jungle and the natural sound effects, creates an eerie atmosphere, ideal for a murder mystery.
All the makings of a good murder mystery
The background score of the film must be commended for maintaining the right amount of intrigue throughout. Shivaji Surathkal around whom the film revolves is introduced to us as Sherlock Holmes, therefore getting rid of any speculation. Aravind imbues into the character some flair, and pomp. While the eccentricity of Holmes in this character is only seen in how fast he speaks, our Sherlock Holmes has the capacity to love.
The film weaves two parallels in time, an unsolved case involving Shivaji's wife (Radhika Narayan) and the present murder. We're thrown into the middle of Ranagiri, with eleven prime suspects and a horrifying back story of the place. The inn setting and the multiple suspects are meant to thicken the plot. Akash has all the right ingredients to produce a solid murder mystery.
However, the first half is focussed on establishing our central character who is slowly being driven mad in the case, the second half is where the film then needs to make up for the lost time. As the film races trying to tie every loose end, here is where the film loses some of the finesse that it began with it. What's more, at some points the parallels, take away from the strength of the movie which is the present-day sequence undoubtedly.
Joining the Sherlock Holmes club
Kannada cinema doesn't have too many examples to look up to, hence Shivaji Surathkal rises beyond those expectations. Ramesh plays the character with pride and a lot of heavy dialogues, recalling some of the Benedict Cumberbatch narcissism. However, our Watson here steals scenes. In a plot as a dark and winded as this, an opportunity to let out the breath you've been holding comes in the form of Govind played by Raaghu Ramanakoppa. He has no problem slipping in comedy in numerous scenes with skill.
Ramesh Aravind doesn't make a bad Sherlock, just one that can't keep up with Downey and Cumberbatch, this is simply because their Sherlocks lack this kind of capability to love. It's still entertaining to watch at points and at others you just wished he would calm down a bit.
Shivaji Surathkal has added a strong take on murder mysteries that pay a respectable ode to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. Whodunnit films keep one engaged, but they are best when they don't try too hard. Akash in this case bit off more than he could chew, with larger themes of murder, crime, horror, love, and justice, it's a lot for a movie that's little over two hours. Still, this has potential for a sequel and as for me, I wish the Ranagiri Rahasya gets its own spin-off.
If you're looking for some entertainment and are missing Sherlock, go ahead and watch this one!