Kalavu is a racy, gripping thriller along the lines of Dhuruvangal 16.

It’s clear from the opening scene where Kalavu draws its inspiration from. As one of the lead characters stumbles from a dilapidated restroom into the theatre hall, a voice-over from Raghuman reveals that the movie playing in the background is Dhuruvangal 16, one of the finest crime thrillers in Tamil cinema. Despite setting itself such a lofty target, Kalavu doesn’t disappoint and keeps you glued throughout the movie.

Debutant director Murali Karthick deserves a lot of credit for conceiving a brilliant plot with several interwoven storylines. A trio of “innocent” friends get caught in a web of escalating lies after an unfortunate case of mistaken identity lands them in trouble for chain-snatching. The victim is someone who has committed adultery, unbeknownst to her husband. There is an elderly watchman who is the only witness to the crime. As these seemingly random characters collide, the stakes keep mounting before all the different strands are neatly tied up in a riveting finale.

Every single character is brilliantly fleshed out, with some shades of grey. The four friends, led by Kalaiarasan, churn out extremely realistic portrayals and are very much relatable. Karunakaran impresses in one of his more serious outings, while Venkat Prabu has a whale of a time playing the lead cop in the investigation. Even though you want to root for all the characters – from Kalaiarasan and his friends to the debt-ridden watchman to the spurned husband – the characters are caught in a vicious circle. If one character is to come out of this messy situation, it can only be at the expense of another.

Its non-linear storytelling at its finest as Murali Karthick keeps us unwittingly in the dark. We are handed pieces of the puzzle only to realize later that it was only a part of a bigger piece. I loved how the BGM is reduced to a combination of a ticking clock and a beating heart for the most gripping moments of the movie.

In addition to the D16 tribute in the opening scene, there are other nods to Tamil pop culture as well. While the movie commendably disregards the need for a romance arc and traditional songs, I enjoyed how old Tamil songs were played in line with the mood or situation in the movie. Black Pulsars are prevalent in the movie, quite possibly as a tribute to Vettrimaran’s Poladhavan.

There is precious little to complain about in the entire movie. Even when you come at it with a logic stick, it holds firm and true. There is the odd coincidence problem, but that is common even in quality thrillers. It’s really baffling as to why Kalavu couldn’t get a theatrical release. But thanks to Zee5’s intervention, we aren’t robbed of a racy, gripping thriller along the lines of Dhuruvangal 16.