Venkat Prabhu’s latest cinematic offering arrives not too soon after his best work with 2021’s ‘Maanaadu’ and last year’s middlingly received ‘Manmadha Leelai.’ ‘Custody’ is a bilingual venture, featuring names from both the Tamil and Telugu film industry, including lead Naga Chaitanya. Despite a cult following for his films, Prabhu’s filmography has been spotty at best - ‘Mankatha’ seemed like a fluke until ‘Maanaadu.’ With ‘Custody,’ Prabhu has slipped back into cruise control.
The film follows Shiva, played by Naga Chaitanya, an upstanding police constable who, due to an unintentional publicity stunt, becomes a local hero. He has his usual share of tribulations: a love interest (Kriti Shetty as Revathi) whose parents wish for her to marry for convenience and a higher official who despises his unconventional attitude. A run-in with Arvind Swami’s Razu turns his world upside-down, wrongfully being branded a fugitive and acquiring a mission to escort a wanted felon to a court faraway. The basic plot provides much scope for an action-filled blockbuster, and the first half of the film succeeds in providing that.
Naga Chaitanya does a mostly adequate job of playing the role of Shiva. Kriti Shetty is more impressive as Revathi, and the best performance of the film - Venkat Prabhu does a good job of providing her enough screen-time and variation in character to allow her to shine. Aravind Swamy’s portrayal of Razu seems to pull a lot from Vijay Sethupathi’s style of casual dark humour, calling to mind Vedha from ‘Vikram Vedha’ in particular. Another good performance comes from Premgi Amaren, in his role as Prem, eliciting laughs from most of his unique brand of onscreen antics.
Technically speaking, Prabhu has stepped up his game. The film is visually striking. There is an entertaining ‘one-take’ fight sequence. The comedy lands more often than it misses. However, these attributes apply mostly for the pre-interval portion of the film. ‘Custody’ loses its focus and pace throughout the second half, losing momentum and meandering its way to a feeble climax. One cannot help but feel Prabhu exhausts his creative steam.
The plot draws heavily from the works of Lokesh Kanagaraj, namely the LCU - which is overtly mentioned in one instance. A major proportion of Prabhu’s charm as a director seems to be in these blatant references and fourth wall breaks, which have always leaned more towards irksome than endearing.
For the soundtrack, the father-son duo of Illaiyaraja and Yuvan Shankar Raja join forces. The songs are mostly forgettable. The track ‘Timeless Love’ is accompanied by some quaint visuals, which are more memorable than the song itself. The background score fares better, but also did not especially stand out.
Overall, the first half of ‘Custody’ promises much, however, the second half fails to deliver. Venkat Prabhu has proved to be a competent director on more than one occasion, so another surprise could be in store further down the line. I would recommend watching ‘Mankatha’ and ‘Maanaadu’ from Venkat Prabhu’s filmography. If you enjoyed Custody, I would recommend watching ‘Kaithi’ and ‘Vikram.’
Krishna's rating: 2.5 stars
Official trailer for the film below.