In a scene from Pa.Ranjith’s Kabali we see an ageing gangster attend a graduation ceremony at a rehabilitation centre which is close to his heart. Kabaleeshwaran (Rajinikanth) is recently out of jail after 25 years and is still trying to find out some answers. The students ask him various questions, on his past life-how he became a gangster, how he landed up in jail, about his marriage etc. One of them, Meena (Riythvika) even asks as to how did Kumudhavalli (Radhika Apte) fall in love with a dark looking guy like him and pat comes the reply that it’s all about the power of black colour. Now this seemingly simple dialogue is what makes it fun to watch a Rajini film, the fans love it and even the others will certainly smile on hearing this. Cut to another scene, this time in a 5 star hotel room in Chennai where Kabali and his daughter Yogi (Dhansika) are startled to hear the doorbell ring quite a few times, only to realise that the person at the door is none other than their local support provider.
So when this person Anbu (Poster Nandakumar) tells Kabali “sarakku adikka polama,venumna namma keezheye kooda polam” (shall we go for a drink? we can even go down for the same), Kabali laughs in his characteristic style saying he doesn’t have the habit and also adds that in Malaysia “sarakku” refers to women and not booze :).This is a moment which again subtly shows the superstar in form, in this process we also get to know something distinct about the Tamil spoken in Malaysia. There are all kinds of people who have wanted to watch Kabali and everyone has their reason for the same. The diehard fans have been hoping that with this film they would be able to overcome the disappointment of Kochadaiiyaan and Lingaa, the new generation Tamil cinema followers have been expecting something that’s a tad unconventional for a Rajini film considering director Pa.Ranjith’s previous works (Attakathi and Madras) and of course there is a whole bunch of people out there who just want to watch the film out of curiosity, to understand what Rajini mania is all about.
Now that it’s been three days since the film has hit the theatres and with all kinds of opinions flying across the World, it’s time to probably sit down peacefully and look at the film in retrospect. By now if you still do not know the plot of the film then you are either in some God forsaken place where you don’t have access to the internet or you just don’t care about Rajinikanth and/or Kabali. Kabali, a much respected don comes out of jail after 25 years. Having started off as someone who fought for the rights of the Tamil labourers working in the plantations, he is noticed by Tamilnesan (Nassar) who controls the underworld and is a respected community leader as well. Kabali moves to Kuala Lumpur along with his wife Kumudhavalli and his trusted aide/friend Ameer (John Vijay) and becomes part of Tamilnesan’s inner circle. When Tamilnesan is bumped off by people like Veerasekaran (Kishore) and Tony Lee (Winston Chao) Kabali moves up the rungs of the gang as he wins the admiration and support of the people, clearly upsetting the plans of Veerasekaran and Tony Lee. Thus they plot to eliminate him and take over control, accordingly a trap is set and in the ensuing melee Kumudhavalli is supposedly killed and Kabali lands up in jail.
So now as Kabali returns back to his former life, he has questions for which he needs quick answers. Tony and Veerasekaran are also waiting to knock off him forever. Ultimately who ends up triumphant is what the film is all about. Clearly even a kid will be able to tell us that there is nothing remarkable about the plot per se, and having seen the film twice by now I’m actually fine with that. Pa.Ranjith has been saying for a long time now that he hasn’t really attempted a typical Rajini film in the first place, but then is it as refreshing as his own previous films? Well yes and no, yes if you consider it from Rajinikanth’s view point as he is restrained for a significant part of the film, gets to show off his acting chops and all this while still playing a larger than life role. But it’s also a no because it’s not a film that does not do anything innovative within the framework of what the plot could have allowed him to. By now I do realize that a lot of detailing certainly has gone into getting the Malaysian angle right, it more or less stays true to the aspect of Tamilians living in Malaysia, their backdrop, their involvement in the gangs and so forth. But then to admire all that a mere one time watch wouldn’t really help.
This then gives rise to the question as to whether everyone would be willing to give the film a second go so that they can appreciate the nuances a lot better. Also worth pondering over is how many of us are actually feeling the urge to go in for a repeat viewing (I am not talking of diehard Rajinikanth fans who probably just want to repeat the film only for another glance of their Thalaivar)? Somewhere questions like these are necessary to understand how much the film has worked for the audience. The disappointment for me is only because of the fact that there was still a lot that Ranjith could have managed to do, after all getting to work with the superstar in just his 3rd film isn’t a privilege that other filmmakers would be able to manage. I know the India portions probably do appeal to some but apart from the fact that we get to see the humane side of Kabali and the performer in Rajinikanth I felt that portion to be quite a drag and wish that Ranjith had handled it slightly better.
After all following a good interval block and then seeing Kabali call up Tony Lee and giving him a challenge it’s a little bit of a downer seeing things move a little too languidly. My other grouse with the film is the rather shoddy VFX work in the film; here I definitely would blame the producer Kalaipuli S.Thanu. After all a film this big deserved nothing but the best and we can’t accept the theory that the film must have faced budget issues. That however doesn’t take away the fact that G.Murali has managed to still come up with sharp visuals, in particular I liked the use of the grey tone during the initial jail portions. Santosh Narayanan’s songs which consist of an interesting eclectic variety somehow do not really create a big impression in the film, though the recurrent use of “Neruppu Da” works in a big fashion. The stunts by Anbariv are quite good and in particular I must admit that the sequence involving Jeeva (Dinesh) getting attacked by thugs wielding bottles is very impressive.
The film also has a huge star cast, quite a few of the actors are seen in prominent roles, something that’s not usually seen in Rajini films. The actors include those who have worked with Ranjith on his previous films, some prominent names as well a few lesser known and seen entities. But the performances are nothing spectacular and not something that stand out clearly as a highlight. Dinesh who is quite well known as a leading man by now is strangely shown as a caricature of sorts; maybe he did this role thanks to his association with director Ranjith and of course being a superstar film. Riythvika as Meena seems to have been placed in the film to give a feel of a red herring, nothing more. John Vijay as Ameer, the trusted companion of Kabali does manage to leave an impression. Dhansika as Yogi gets an interesting avatar and she carries off both the look and feel of an assassin quite well. Radhika Apte doesn’t have too much to do in the film, but she looks charming and also convincing as a Tamilian. The scene where she reunites with Kabali is quite a sight to behold of course.
It goes without saying that most of the landmark Rajini movies have been fortunate to have a powerful antagonist, be it Raghuvaran as Mark Antony in Baasha, Ramya Krishnan as Neelambari in Padayappa or even Rajini himself in Endhiran. On that front Kabali is a disappointment because there’s hardly any confrontation as such between Kabali and Tony Lee, hence it does look a little one sided of sorts. Winston Chao isn’t to be blamed though, I’m sure he could have been better utilised by Ranjith. More than him I felt Kishore as Veersekaran was a lot more menacing and came across as a reasonably strong adversary. Kabali is a role that sees Rajinikanth play his age and he fits the role wonderfully. Of course age seems to have caught up with him, restricting his agility to an extent. However that doesn’t by any ways mean that his style and charm is missing, thankfully that is very much intact.
Ultimately Kabali is a film which is way better than a misadventure like Lingaa and not a curious misfire like Kochadaiiyaan. It has quite a few positives including a super duper Rajinikanth who shines wonderfully in the film. However that doesn’t mean that Pa.Ranjith has come up with a totally superlative film, in the process of trying to balance between a larger than life Rajini film and something that’s quite realistic, the film falls somewhere short of both. So is Kabali worth a watch? Certainly, but does it completely satisfy? I guess not, but do check it out and decide for yourself.
Note: The early morning celebrations at Aurora Cinema, Matunga before the 6 A.M show of Kabali on its opening day was a sight to behold. That by itself is an indicator of how and why Rajinikanth is indeed a phenomenon.