Classier instalment with insipid third act

Express News Service

It’s been 34 years since we met Sethurama Iyer in Oru CBI Diary Kurippu and 17 years since the release of Nerariyan CBI, the fourth entry in Malayalam’s longest-running movie series. Naturally, as someone who, as a kid, looked up to Mammootty’s distinguished and brainy CBI sleuth, one is eager to see the next instalment no matter how long it took and no matter how intolerable the last two films were.

(I never felt the urge to revisit Nerariyan CBI and Sethurama Iyer CBI.) I hoped for the 5th entry, titled CBI 5: The Brain, to bring back the classiness of the first two films, Oru CBI Diary Kurippu (OCDK) and Jagratha. And it does, although only to a certain extent. 

Yes, CBI 5 is the most refined in the series after Jagratha. And I say ‘refined’ because CBI 5 forgoes the lame humour, teleserial-style performances and overuse of the background score that had a corrosive effect on the last two films. I’m not implying that CBI 5 is entirely devoid of teleserial-style performances, but it is relatively a vast improvement, meaning I found it more tolerable. Perhaps I sound a tad enthusiastic here because several instances in CBI 5 instantly transported me to that time when I discovered OCDK and Jagratha on Doordarshan for the first time. 

Perhaps it’s Jakes Bejoy’s background score which retains Shyam’s iconic tunes without modifying them too much. Or maybe it has to do with me imagining myself watching CBI 5 as a kid during the 90s because it felt like watching something made two decades ago.

I was okay with it because it brought back some lovely moviegoing memories. I liked how Mammootty’s intro scene calls back to the same in OCDK. I liked how cleverly they included, and did justice to, Jagathy’s character Vikram.

And despite its obsolete quality, SN Swamy’s writing managed to sustain my interest at least until the moments leading up to the third act. There were areas in the film that made me marvel at his ability to conjure up some very knotty situations.

The film starts well enough, and for a while there, you sense a touch of novelty in presenting the entire film as a flashback from the point-of-view of one of Sethurama Iyer’s sub-ordinates (Renji Panicker) when prepping young officers during an orientation class. When you see him recounting a case that “even Sethu sir found to be the most difficult of his career”, you expect to be blown away by the events, twists and resolution. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Despite Mammootty’s effortless way of making it seem as though he played Sethurama Iyer only yesterday, the film begins to go downhill after some of the storytelling deficiencies that plagued the last two entries begin to rear their ugly heads after the first 100 mins or so. One of these is Sai Kumar’s extremely annoying character Sathyadas who has become more insufferable since his last appearance. This dinosaur of a character should have been omitted or written as a more mature character. 

There is a lot of confusion caused by the complex connections between various characters, but the film expects you to be. It follows a confusion-clarity-confusion-clarity pattern. At one point, Renji Panicker echoes our sentiments when he tells Mammootty that he, too, is confused. When everything becomes clear to him, we are in the same state. But when Sethurama Iyer hits an unexpected snag, the confusion begins again. However, when the killer’s identity, motive, and methods unravel eventually, one can’t help but feel a sense of deja vu. 

The much-hyped ‘basket killing’ proves to be a damp squib. And the killing method has shown up at least in two Malayalam thrillers before this, including a most recent one.  And it also doesn’t help when the actors playing the culprits deliver unintentionally hilarious performances.

One of these (miscast) actors has messed up two other thrillers before this. When Renji Panicker piqued our curiosity by talking about the ‘seriousness’ of the case with a grave expression on his face at the beginning of the film, I expected the villains to be more menacing than the ones we get. While the events leading up to that point is interesting, the ridiculous finale doesn’t do justice to an investigator of Sethurama Iyer’s calibre. 

Let’s remember that CBI 5 comes at a time when films like Drishyam 2, Antakshari, and Jana Gana Mana impressed us with more innovative plot twists. I recently heard a joke about how the murders in the last CBI films were caused by someone not wanting his illicit affairs coming out in the open, which is true when you think about it. CBI 5 brings up one such liaison, but, fortunately, SN Swamy doesn’t make that the focal point of the case.

And one of the other things I found off-putting is Sethurama Iyer crediting the ‘almighty’ for guiding him to clues. It’s like your parents telling you to eat more vegetables because, “Sethurama Iyer is so intelligent because he is a vegetarian.” God and vegetables! Insert Robert Downey Jr’s eye-roll meme here.

Film: CBI 5 – The Brain
Director: K Madhu
Cast: Mammootty, 
Renji Panicker Mukesh, Sai Kumar, Ramesh Pisharody

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