Thirty-six-year-old aspiring screenwriter Arjan Sethi (Akshay Kumar) has been fascinated by and researching serial killers for seven years. The walls of his apartment are plastered with news clips and images related to these crimes. But the Chandigarh-based financiers are more interested in a Punjabi comedy than his gritty script called ‘Patiala Murder Files’.
After many disappointments, Arjan agrees to take his sister (Hrishitaa Bhatt) and police officer brother-in-law’s (Chandrachur Singh) advice. “Aaj Rakhi hai. Khaki pehen le” (it’s Rakhi today, so wear khaki today), she says. The failed screenwriter is pushed to take up a compensatory position assigned to him after his cop father died in the line of duty. Arjan’s induction as a sub-inspector in the Kasauli precinct could not be timelier. A serial killer seems to be targeting teenaged female students in the hill towns of Himachal Pradesh.
Arjan draws on the years of research to build a mind map of the killer. His theories are met with resistance. His colleagues do not easily warm to the entitled newbie in Onitsuka Tiger shoes and civvies. His biggest challenge is earning the trust of a tough SHO, Gudiya Parmar (Shargun Mehta). In between tracking down the killer, Arjan finds time to romance his niece’s school teacher Divya, played by Rakul Preet Singh (whose wardrobe seems heavily inspired by Sushmita Sen’s chemistry teacher from Main Hoon Na). When Arjan asks Divya if she respects the police, her glib response is: “How can I? Pizza reaches quicker than the police.” The speed and efficiency of proceedings is no different in Kasauli, as the killer is always a few steps ahead of the cops.
Cuttputli, a remake of Ram Kumar’s 2018 Tamil film, Ratsasan, in which the role of the aspiring filmmaker-turned-police-officer was played by Vishnu Vishal, is a by-the-numbers crime thriller. The Hindi remake, with an adapted screenplay by Aseem Arora and directed by Ranjit Tiwari, is high on atmospherics created by Rajeev Ravi’s cinematography, Chandan Arora’s editing and Julius Packiam’s score. The story, stuffed with the tropes of genre, remains heavily reliant on its protagonist to solve the crime. Kumar’s physicality is suited to the part though his interpretation of the character, like that of many of his co-stars here, presents nothing special. Mehta’s SHO Parmar is one of the notable performances.
The pace of the approximately two-hour long film is crisp, but it takes too many bends before finally closing in on the killer for a reveal that is both bizarre and absurd. It’s a plot twist almost as unsound as that in Forensic, another film about a serial killer targeting young girls. In Forensic, a cop and a forensic expert are working the case, but here in Cuttputli, a screenwriter-turned-policeman is almost singlehandedly solving the case of the brutal murders. One is sorely tempted to use the forward 10 seconds button to move swiftly through the distended, unsatisfying climax.
Cuttputli is on Disney+ Hotstar.