In the arena of Kannada cinema, Raj B Shetty’s ambitious narrative in “Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana” (GGVV, 2021) was a turning point, marking a transformative shift from his comedic debut, “Ondu Motteya Kathe.” While he returns with another cinematic venture in “Toby,” the expectations are indeed high.
Dubbed as Raj’s first ‘mass’ film, “Toby” tantalizes with a blend of style and substance. Although helmed by Basil Alachalakkal, it’s unmistakably a Raj B Shetty narrative, penned by him, rooted in the story crafted by T K Dayanand. Raj tastefully tweaks the traditional ‘masala’ essence, evident in his impactful introduction and the impeccably choreographed pre-interval combat sequence.
However, it’s here that the comparisons with GGVV intensify. While GGVV was propelled by the magnetic Shiva (played by Raj) and his unpredictable actions, “Toby” spans across multiple relationships, dimming the spotlight on the eponymous character. This narrative spread weakens the film’s emotional connect, making it visually arresting, yet devoid of heartfelt sentiment.
Toby’s life, encapsulated in the backdrop of Damaskatte, is a paradox of innocence and violence. Mute by birth, his turbulent past has fashioned him into a protective guardian, fierce to anyone threatening his kin. Raj’s writing emphasizes contrasts, focusing on societal outliers. Toby’s life, defined by death, takes a twist when he chooses life, nurturing an abandoned child. Simultaneously, his romantic bond with a sex worker (portrayed meticulously by Samyukta Hornad) introduces nuanced femininity, a refreshing addition to Raj’s filmography.
The narrative tension escalates as Toby becomes an unwilling player in the criminal underworld. The film’s pacing, accentuated by Praveen Shriyan’s contemplative camera work and Midhun Mukundan’s evocative music, carries the weight of Toby’s conflicts.
However, “Toby” struggles with predictability. The eureka moments that defined GGVV are absent, and the film occasionally flounders, especially towards the climax. Despite these setbacks, Raj’s embodiment of Toby shines, capturing a myriad of emotions.
In conclusion, while Raj B Shetty’s “Toby” delivers a distinctive experience, dark and daring, it somewhat feels like a puzzle with a few misplaced pieces. The film, while a commendable attempt, doesn’t fully resonate organically, leaving viewers intrigued but wanting more.