‘KTM’ movie review: Dheekshith Shetty gives his all in a film stuck in a time warp

In the realm of cinema, audiences often yearn for something beyond the best of its genre; they search for innovation or at least a refreshing perspective. It’s only natural that a coming-of-age film would be placed on the scales against acclaimed films like Premam and Autograph, while tales of a hero’s downfall due to substance addiction may conjure images of Arjun Reddy or Vaaranam Aayiram.

This brings us to KTM, fronted by Dheekshith Shetty, which unfortunately feels like a canvas painted with the same old brushes of inspiration. Directed by Aruna, KTM tangles itself in the web of overused tropes and motifs typical for coming-of-age narratives. The story tracks the journey of Karthik, a young man hailing from Udupi, who after a benign heartbreak during his schooldays, ventures to Bengaluru for college.

Here, KTM doesn’t shy away from deploying every college life stereotype imaginable—from the celebratory friendship song to the relentless pursuit of romance. The film, in moments of self-reflection, aims to laugh away comparisons with Arjun Reddy. A character within the film even jests with the hero about his resemblance to Vijay Devarakonda. Yet these meta-references, like several subplots in the film, lack real depth and conviction.

Aruna employs various directorial techniques such as intimate close-ups, dramatic slow motions, and potent background scores, managing to anchor a few pivotal scenes with flair. Despite these efforts, a palpable sense of emptiness pervades the film, primarily resulting from its insipid scriptwriting. The depiction of Mercy, the protagonist’s girlfriend, raises questions. She is painted as a bold, fearless woman averse to sympathy, yet the story neglects to flesh out her backstory. Similarly, Karthik’s transition from well-mannered to aggressive is abrupt, begging for a more gradual character development.

KTM seems to cater towards a specific audience—one that subscribes to traditional notions of masculinity and believes men bear the greater brunt of romantic suffering. This message may resonate with some viewers, but it’s hard to miss the director’s lack of finesse in handling the story’s various themes. Moments that require intensity are diminished by melodramatic cues, particularly in a subplot involving Karthik’s friend. The film also swerves into didactic territory, criticizing the modern youth’s supposed disrespect towards parents and reckless indulgence in online gaming.

What’s acutely felt is the exhaustion brought on by the attempt to transform the lead characters. Imagine if the creative energies had been channeled into crafting emotionally tangible and resonant scenes for the couple at the heart of this tale. In that alternate reality, KTM might have provided an engaging love story.

Thankfully, the actors—Dheekshith, Sanjana Doss, and Usha Bhandary—deliver commendable performances despite the script’s shortcomings. Dheekshith in particular shines through in the emotional and action sequences, bearing promise of a lead capable of mass appeal. His talent was evident in his last outing, the pan-Indian action drama Dasara, but KTM falls short in providing a worthy narrative scaffolding for his skills.

As KTM graces theaters, it leaves behind a trail of missed opportunities. It could have been a film that offered more than just a revisitation of familiar grounds. Amidst the lackluster scripting and forced thematic shifts, the film does not fully capitalize on its potential to forge a new path in the coming-of-age genre. The quest for freshness in cinema continues, often shadowed by the towering precedence of genre classics.

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