Detective Kaniyan Poonkundran is hungry for a challenging case to investigate and the mystery of a murdered dog leads to a rival who could be the match for him.
Taking inspiration from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Mysskin has come up with his own eccentric detective, who is bloody brilliant at deduction, socially challenged and will not rest until he has solved his case.
The first time we are introduced to his Kaniyan Poonkundran (Vishal, effective), he is desperate for a case — his fix. After a few false starts, he gets a mystery that he feels is worthy of his calibre — it involves a dead canine and a missing canine tooth. As he investigates, with his Watson-like friend Mano (Prasanna, able foil), it leads him to a death that we are shown in the film's opening scene — of a father and his son being struck by lightning.
Meanwhile, a gang of ruthless criminals, led by a character called Devil (Vinay, chilling), which is behind the murders, gets a whiff of Kaniyan's investigation and plots to take him down before he can derail all their carefully laid-out plans.
Like every Mysskin film, Thupparivaalan is idiosyncratic. It starts off on a slow note — the film spends a little too much time with a sub-plot (a commercial compromise?) involving Mallika (Anu Emmanuel), a pick-pocket who Kaniyan becomes fond of and even abuses — but picks up speed and races along leading to a thrilling interval point. The murders are clever (artificial lightning, ricin, laughing gas), the action thrilling and the scenes suspenseful. The criminal is always one step ahead of the detective and the director, who doesn't shy away from showing us the brutality of the crimes, stages the action in sudden bursts, so there is always tension in the scenes.
Comparisons with Guy Richie's films and Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's TV series are inevitable, but Mysskin ensures that this film is wholly his. What gives his film a distinct touch is how he films his scenes. In one action scene, set in a restaurant, he leaves the furniture intact, while most filmmakers would have given us broken tables and chairs to show us the intensity of the action. He even teases us with a fish tank that adds a touch of humour. He also sets the scenes in unique locations — an under-construction building, a Chinese restaurant, a mangrove forest — that they feel fresh and novel. Karthik Venkatraman's cinematography is one of the film's highlights.
It is hard to make us care for a protagonist who is a sociopath (the scene in which he sticks a broom in her hand and pushes her down when she asks him for work is sure to shock and enrage), but Mysskin offsets this by giving us characters like Mano and Mallika whose safety we fear for. He also makes us empathise with the villains, even if only for a few moments. A scene involving Bhagyaraj (in a role unlike anything he has done so far) is quite tragic, while the death of a major character is presented in a heartbreaking way. Then there is Arrol Corelli's violin-dominated score, which infuses so much emotion into the scenes.
And this is Mysskin's triumph, for what sets Thupparivaalan apart from regular action thrillers is how it not only thrills us, but also makes us feel.