Alright, let's set the stage. Here's how Anjali CBI begins.
Bangalore is on high alert after a slew of kidnappings and murders. These crimes are eerily reminiscent of the ones committed by a notorious and now-dead serial killer, Rudra. CBI officer Anjali (Nayanthara) is enlisted to crack the case and bring the copycat killer to justice. Her operation begins when she works in tandem with a wealthy businessman who negotiates with the cold-blooded killer in an effort to rescue his child.
But, unbeknown to the distraught dad and the decorated officer, Rudra - New and Improved (Anurag Kashyap) is monitoring their every action. He has no intention of sparing the child. He has no intention of walking away without the money simply because the CBI is involved either. However, he has every intention of outsmarting Anjali and proving once and for all that she isn't everything the world says she is.
Why does this killer harbour such disdain for Anjali? Why does he attempt to succeed in the same style of crimes that were fatal to another killer? Will Anjali prove her mettle by bringing another cackling madman to justice? How many more innocent lives will be lost in the shuffle while these two opposing forces wage war?
The answer to all these intriguing questions will be presented you after an utterly pointless and clichéd love story between Anjali's brother Arjun (Atharvaa) and his lady love Krithika (Raashi Khanna). Not interested yet? Does it help if this undercooked romance spiced things up with Vodafone zoozoos, misplaced songs and a sub-plot triggered by jealousy?
Don't double-check what you just read - you are neither high nor is a cruel joke being played on you. What does happen though is that a movie that had all the potential of being great ends up being only good.
Anjali CBI's undoing is that it lacks restraint at crucial stages of telling its story. This is doubly frustrating as the movie displays adeptness at conveying information concisely through many stages through its runtime. The aforementioned ill-conceived love track takes valuable time and even more valuable tension away from the first half of the film. As you grow impatient waiting to be reacquainted with the movie's psychotic antagonist, the film's other shortcomings become all the more evident.
Tarantino once said that good filmmaking comes down to how many times a director can trick an audience within the 24 frames he is afforded. With Anjali CBI, writer/director R Ajay Gnanamuthu allows the audience the time to peek into the machinations of his high-stakes hocus pocus, and that unfortunate choice takes away from his film's overall impact.
This is not to say the movie does not redeem itself after its lukewarm first spell. It ups the ante as it delves into the primary motivations of both its protagonist and its antagonist. The events that motivate the antagonist, in particular, combine to form a fascinating emotional outcome brimming with intrigue, obsession and rage that is easy for any viewer to empathise with. This works very well in tandem with Anjali's backstory as it illustrates that not all "good" actions have positive reverberations for all people. It is a bold philosophical stance for a hammy crime drama to take, and to its credit, that choice is clearly what helps it rise above other run-of-the-mill thrillers that are forgotten as soon as the audience walk the distance between the theatre and the carpark.
Bringing an air of fun to the philosophy class is Anurag Kashyap as Rudra. His over-the-top portrayal of the character is often out of sync with the film he is a part of in the very best of ways. He is maniacal and cunning, and uses his striking face to great effect. He knows he is EVIL, and revels in his EVIL-ness. Simply put, no one enjoys his performance as much as he does.
Relative to Kashyap, both Nayanthara and Atharvaa fade into the background with every scene they share with each other or the slew of ancillary characters. The energy the brother-sister duo bring to the screen is not quite what the film requires, and they firmly halt the movie's momentum with an unwelcome sense of self-seriousness. And dare we say, the only reason we found ourselves caring about Anjali's backstory was primarily down to a certain actor who brought levity and personality to it.
The film's score, too, seems a tad out of sync with the story being told, but this time the lack of synchronisation does not work to the movie's advantage. While HipHop Tamizha's brazen and unapologetically loud score works well with Rudra's loud and unapologetic characterization, the style of the duo of composers is sorely at odds with the duo of do-gooders in the film. And when the sync-free score is almost omnipresent, the results are less than desirable.
The movie looks well-made, though. Not too spectacular, not too bad, just okay. And that quick couplet that expresses how we felt about the film's visual presentation, in particular, can be extended to overall movie as well. It is neither bad nor great but just functional enough to never rub an audience member the wrong way. In that regard, the glass is half-full. It is indeed better than most movies we subject ourselves to on a weekly basis. But is that enough or could it have been more? Are we demanding better or are we nit-picking?
Or, in a utopian environment, can both sides of the coin can exist in harmony? This isn't the film's world, mind you. This town is indeed big enough for both opinions.