Welcome back, Rajinikanth- the actor. The Superstar, who is remembered more frequently for his style and charisma than his acting, has shown how terrific a performer he can be, given a proper stage and platform to perform.
The Superstar of Indian Cinema, is back, in the Pa. Ranjith directorial ‘Kabali’, after his last outing Lingaa, which was a misfire. The prospect of him working with a new-gen director raised a lot of eyebrows. When it was announced that it would be a Gangster movie, the expectation levels shot up. The teaser and the wonderful songs (along with the producer using Rajinikanth as a marketable brand) drew the already huge expectations to unimaginable heights. So, did the movie satisfy all the mammoth expectations surrounding it? Let us see..
Kabali, which is set in Malaysia, deals with the namesake Tamilian Gangster, his fight for the equality of Tamilians in Malaysia, his family and his life. He spends 25 years in jail, with his life shattered, and his mission unaccomplished. When he comes out of the jail, he starts finding answers and unties all the knots which lead him into different situations with varied emotions. What happens to his life at the end is what has been narrated by Pa. Ranjith, with a lot of political sincerity and astonishingly brilliant detailing.
The story, on paper looks immense and stunning. The way Ranjith has written the script of a Superstar movie with all the oppression saga, Dalit politics, equaltiy of Malaysian Tamils has been loaded with pure class and dignity. The way he’s done his research for writing the script left me asestruck and dumbfounded for a while ( To read about the research Ranjith has done for Kabali, here is the source- http://visithra.blogspot.in/2016/07/detailed-explanation-of-kabali-movie.html?m=0 ) . The sensibilities with which he writes his scripts, which was extremely evident in Madras, is clearly visible in Kabali too. All his directorial touches are to be seen in Kabali too. The portrayal of Dalits has been handled exceptionally well and it never seemed clichéd. Dialogues played a huge role in each of Ranjith’s previous movies and Kabali is no exception. During the initial phase of the movie, when Kabali and his friend (played really well by a surprisingly subtle John Vijay) pass a large cage filled with exotically plumed birds, where Kabali says that these birds should be free. John Vijay says they have been caged for their protection and if set free, they will be devoured by bigger birds, birds of prey. Kabali replies, “Unnoda karunai adhoda saavai vida kodooramanadhu.” This is one of those many dialogues which makes sense in more than one way and each of them relates to the Dalit politics and the plight of Malaysian Tamils. Even in Veera Thurandhara, which plays out in the flashback scenes, the same thought reverberates. These lines sting us and push us to think about them in a social way and leave us wanting for more of them. Since this is more of an emotional drama than a Gangsta flick as seen from the teaser, the screenplay moves at a sedate pace. This slow pace is used by Ranjith to establish each and every character and their stories, which are ingrained into the movie and its core plot. This slow screenplay becomes a problem at times and a section of the audience are finding it difficult to stay up and watch the movie. But I personally think this leisurely paced screenplay is pertinent to the issues that Kabali deals with and it might’ve been done intentionally. Where Ranjith flounders a bit is in bridging the gap between his class elements and the mass elements, which are synonymous of our Superstar. He falls a bit short in this aspect, but it is definitely not a huge misstep from the filmmaker. Had this been done in a more proper way, this film would’ve become a cult classic.
Being said all these things, it is endearing to see a Rajinikanth film so subtle, light, devoid of any melodrama. Ranjith has to be appreciated for making a Rajinikanth film with such nobility. The way Yogi (a welcome comeback for Dhanshika, with ravishing looks and a superlative performance) has been introduced and the way with which her character arc has been dealt with, shows the mettle of Ranjith, the filmmaker. The director has worked a lot to bring the Malaysian culture out in a perfect manner, with the tattoo-bred men, with the words they use (gaadi, saavadi, ponnai etc., ) and even with the political corectness about the things that happen in Malaysia, from the past to the present (since the movie sprawls out for a period of almost 30 years in a non-linear fashion) . The result is seen on screen. I wished the love track between Kabali and Kumudhavalli (a wonderful, meaty role played with perfection and poise by the beautiful Radhika Apte) could’ve stayed longer, as the best moments of the film sprouted out from those scenes. The supporting cast of Dinesh, Kalaiyarasan, Rythvikaa have all done their parts well. The role of Nasser’s was a superb cameo, which formed the evolution of Kabali- the gangster. Special mention to ‘Johnny’ Hari of Madras fame, who played the wacky, funny (and shockingly surprising) Tiger to perfection.
There are a slew of villains and though they don’t stamp their authority, they do spice up the narrative. Winston Chao, who plays the Chinese Villain, shows how a real life gangster can actually be, though his acting was left to be wanting at times. Kishore came off as the generic Tamil movie villlain, but showed his mettle in one particular scene, where he tries to change Kalaiyarasan’s mind. Had the villains been shown with a bit more tenacity, the Gangsta narrative could’ve been top notch. The style quotient has never been compromised, and the costume designers require a pat on the back for showing all the characters with such style. Production design is grand and no compromises have been made in that department. Editing was so smooth and the national award-winning Praveen KL has given us an amicable watching experience without any flashy cuts and unnecessary extras. The cinematographer deserves a racuous applause for bringing all the tension and emotions on screen, with the close-up shots placed admirably during most of the important scenes. The lighting sets the mood up for each and every scene and Murali deserves all plaudits for his work behind the lens.
The stunt scenes have been choreographed brilliantly, though some scenes were filled with surrealism and the suspension of disbelief was required at times ( I still wonder about the U certificate with this amount of violence). There are no unncessary fights and each fight has properly been built up with solid scenes. The open ending, for sure hasn’t gone down well with everyone but it shows the confidence of the filmmaker and his way of making the audience question ‘What might have happened there?’ forever. This makes me believe that the director wants to show it in a realistic manner by saying that the Police are the ultimate force and the fact that they are still above all the gangsters.
The biggest talking point of the film (only after our Superstar though) has to be none other than Santhosh Narayanan. The exceptional album, which has already drawn the interest and love of the millions of fans, have been used with such beauty and dignity in the movie. It is wonderful to see a star vehicle where the songs actually comprehend the movie and not hamper the flow of the narration by any means. The background score is nothing short of greatness. Whatever emotion the director wanted to portray on screen has been brought to effect with stunning results by SaNa. What a gem this man is! His score speaks when there are no dialogues. He also leaves a few places up to be silent which is wonderful to watch. This is another step up for Santhosh Narayanan and this movie can well be one of the biggest milestones in his career.
After all this, what about the person who forms the focal point of the movie? Well, a big Thank You to Ranjith first up for bringing out the performer in Rajinikanth. It was this person whom we saw in Aarilirundhu Arubadhu Varai, Mullum Malarum, Johnny, Thalapathi, Nallavanuku Nallavan that we longed to watch. Yes, he has become aged and it shows in his physical appearance and at times with his dialogue delivery. But, does that really matter? No. The man, whose simple smile is even enough for the legions of his fans to celebrate, gives us a memorable performance, filled with wit, subtlety, power and of course, his trademark style. Irrespective of whether one likes this movie or not, everyone will unanimously love this performance of our Superstar to the core. This is one exception in a long time where Rajinikanth offers a whole lot for the movie than the other way round and he single-handedly carries the movie to the brink of it becoming a cult, just to fall short by a faint margin.
To sum it up, this movie isn’t as bad as it’s been projected by a few and it neither isn’t the greatest or the best ever. It is definitely a solid, good movie which left us wanting for more, because the name was Ranjith. It stands in between a great movie and an average( or even bad as some say) movie, which is still a first rate Rajinikanth movie. This is similar to the struggle Ranjith has experienced in bridging his classy elements with the star’s massy elements, which hasn’t reached the 100% level. Kabali, though not completely satiating, has given me a satisfying experience. Watch it with an open heart with no expectations, and you might end up loving it. But, watch it in a theatre to feel the charisma of our Thalaivar in the big screen, which we are not going to see often in the future.