There's a scene in Kishore Tirumala's RED, where its two protagonists Siddharth and Aditya are at each other's throats in a police station. No matter how many police officials try to stop them, they don't give up. They pummel each other to the extent that they start bleeding. It's a fascinating moment in the story, which until then doesn't reveal how the two are related to each other. But what makes it interesting is that both Siddharth and Aditya are identical twins, played by Ram Pothineni. It's this moment in the story that truly does justice to the actor's relentless energy which could explode any moment. Unfortunately, it's one of the very few moments which takes you by surprise, because the hatred between the two feels so visceral that you become more invested in their lives. The film, however, is filled with sequences which are meant to be clues in the larger picture, but there's hardly anything that genuinely intrigues you.
A remake of a Tamil film, Thadam, RED stars Ram in dual roles. In one character, he's Siddharth, a successful businessman, and in another, he's Aditya, a ruffian who gambles, drinks, cons people, and exhibits a surprisingly good understanding of law. The story is about what happens when these two identical twins become primary suspects in a murder case. The premise is fascinating as the cops discover that they can't find a clue that would help them solve the case, and their confessions leave no reason to doubt their motives. The only thing which interests the cops is why do they hate each other so much, which derails their investigation and the narrative itself.
The film takes its own sweet time before it reveals its conflict.
First, the narrative focuses on building the lives of Siddharth and Mahima (Malvika Sharma), and then, Kishore Tirumala intersperses this with Aditya's wayward life. The difference between the two couldn't be more evident, but even then, we are clueless about what's going to happen next because their two worlds hardly clash with each other. And once they come face to face, they tell stories about their past and try to prove that the other person is guilty. The problem with RED is that it explains too much. Starting from their childhood to what forced them to separate, RED explains the lives of its two characters so much that we end up losing interest in the investigation itself. The drama doesn't leave you with a high. It treats its more thrilling elements as a sideshow because it tries to turn the story into a wholesome family drama. Despite an interesting premise, the film itself isn't consistently interesting.
On the brighter side, Ram is at the top of his game and he's the best part of the movie. His portrayal of Aditya is the most fascinating part of the film and he keeps you guessing about what he's going to do. Kishore Tirumala does well to build the individual lives of Siddharth and Aditya, letting Ram walk the extra mile to give it all to the story. Among others, it's Amrita Aiyer who leaves a strong impression in her limited screen presence. Her portrayal of Gayatri, who's quite subdued by nature, is quite heartfelt. Malvika Sharma as Ram's romantic interest doesn't get enough material to work with, but more than her, it's Nivetha Pethuraj, who finds herself consistently perplexed about what's happening around her. Nivetha plays a cop investigating the case, but the script doesn't give her scope to make a splash.
The trope of an unreliable narrator driving forward the story has been a recurring theme in several Hollywood thrillers, especially in films like Gone Girl and Usual Suspects. While RED doesn't have anything to do with those films, it deviates significantly from its core strength. At its heart, RED is a story about two twins who can't stand the sight of each other, and instead of focusing on the present, the film spends a significant amount of time explaining why they evolved into yin and yang. This kind of dualism is ubiquitous in the story. It gives the characters the freedom to come alive, but curtails the height to which they can jump. It wants us to believe in its world, but it doesn't make the journey interesting. It taps into the lead actor's energy occasionally, but it doesn't know what more to do when the focus isn't on Ram. Perhaps, the title itself is a hat tip to the most important thing that it tries to drive home. That no matter what happens in life, blood is thicker than water.