'Kerala Crime Files' review: A neatly packed soft police procedural that doesn't overstay its welcome

The series is streaming on Disney+Hotstar. Movie posters: Imdb

A killer on the lam, a police squad racing against time to solve the case while fighting their personal battles, a shocker of a twist every 30 minutes, exposing the chinks in the system, holding a mirror to society and a healthy dose of expletives, thanks to the devil may care attitude of OTT platforms, which otherwise would never see the light of day with the censor board. And there you have it, the formula to make a decent crime thriller. 

Ahammed Khabeer's foray into the genre was a safe bet for Disney+ Hotstar. The streaming platform's first-ever Malayalam web series is a neatly made police procedural that manages to keep the audience intrigued enough to complete its six-episode run without overstaying its welcome. The series is also surprisingly devoid of certain crime thriller tropes, which seems to have worked in its favour.

Indian web series have found major success in the crime thriller genre from the lens of a police procedural. Shows like 'Delhi Crime', 'Pataal Lok' and 'Dahaad' are excellent examples. 

The complexities of an investigation and the several angles that can be explored while fleshing out the characters involved make for enough content to break into episodes. 

Also, seldom genres can catch and hold your intrigue from the word go like a crime thriller. The audience is constantly guessing and looking for clues and running a probe of their own, which makes the genre almost interactive in a way. 

In the reviewer's book, however, the inventiveness of the killer is what makes the show. Police investigations have a template. The writer's job will always be to throw the police off the killer's scent in an unassuming manner, which would require the killer to be smart.

Interestingly, the plot of 'Kerala Crime Files' revolves around a police squad that is on the hunt for a murderer who isn't aware that he's being hunted. 

A sex worker is found murdered in a local lodge in Ernakulam. A squad led by Manoj, played by a brilliant Aju Varghese, under the supervision of Kurian, an in-form Lal, sets out to find the killer – Shaji, Parayil Veedu, Neendakara. How the squad navigates through each hurdle in their attempt to find a man who isn't trying to hide with nothing but a facial disorder forms the crux of 'Kerala Crime Files'.

With each episode spanning just under 30 minutes, the makers are well aware that delving into side stories for long would distract the viewer. Though familial relations are explored, the scenes never once overpower the central plot. Casting new faces for the majority of characters succeeds in giving the show a raw feel.

The makers seem to have been careful in not rendering the show too gory either. For those wanting to test the genre with a mild dose, 'Kerala Crime Files' would be a good starting point.

The show stands out in a number of aspects when compared to the quintessential crime thriller and its reasoning is also convincing. By opting for a victim who is a sex worker, the show establishes up front that 'pressure from the top' won't be an issue as the sex workers' community is often seen as belonging to the lower echelons of society and crimes are bound to happen in their profession, considering its nature. 

The show does a good job of showing the community in a dignified light.

The makers see to it that the police are not painted all saintly in the show. The scenario where the squad wrongly arrests a suspect, who is problematic but holds some influence in a political party, and later forces a woman to file a complaint against him so as to avoid the political storm awaiting them portrays the dirty games the police have to resort to in order to save them certain headaches.

In another scene, Officer Pradeep (Zhinz Shan), who has been in the field for some time, asks for a photo of the suspect from his pregnant wife. When she manages to find an old wedding picture of theirs, Officer Pradeep immediately tears it in half and keeps the photo of the suspect with him and hands over the other half to her. Though a small scene, it neatly portrayed the sort of insensitivity that creeps in with experience in this profession.

Setting the show in 2011 gives it the space to take certain liberties in terms of the technology available to solve a case, but not so far back that the makers need to resort to old-school methods. 

Though it was refreshing to hear expletives being thrown around without the 'bleep', the usage of one slur, which is a casteist abuse at its core, could have been avoided.

Aju Varghese as Manoj is a treat to watch. His calibre to handle serious roles is yet to be utilised fully. Though 'Helen' proved his mettle as an officer with a negative shade, anyone doubting his skills to portray serious roles can refer to 'Kerala Crime Files'. His contained performance was much in sync with the pace of the show. 

Lal as Kurian sprinkles unintentional humour in an otherwise serious show and gets the major share of the expletives, which sound strong when uttered in his voice. 

Zhinz Shan, Navas Vallikkunnu and Sanju Sanichen as the rest of the squad understood the assignment and portrayed it to perfection.

Jithin Stanislaus with his cinematography and Hesham Abdul Wahab with his background score are the stars of this show. There is not a single frame that seems boring or unnecessary. Hesham's score contributes significantly to maintaining the intrigue even in scenes that are just part of a normal investigation. Though there were moments where the score felt a tad loud, in no way did it take away from the experience. The single track, however, was take-it-or-leave-it. 

The editor Mahesh Bhuvananandh ensured the show stayed crisp right till the end and has done a commendable job with the cuts. The scene where a receptionist narrates his encounter with the killer has been shot and edited beautifully. Though it may not be a novel idea, the execution could not have been easy. 

Writer Ashiq Aimar has managed to come up with what can be termed a sub-genre – soft crime thriller. Though the climax could have been stronger and more dramatic, the decision to keep it as real as possible was again in sync with the theme of the show. 

Though the director has clarified that 'Kerala Crime Files' is not based on a true story, it would do wonders for the show if it can be inspired by true stories. After 'June' and 'Madhuram', this genre shift for Ahammed is a positive one with numerous possibilities. 

'Kerala Crime Files' is a lesson on how to make good content on a low budget without compromising production quality.

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