Darbar (2020) Tamil Movie Review: All Style and No Substance

SUPERSTARS in cinema is a rare concept now, probably the only star in the world who has seen such a longevity in his career is Rajinikanth. Perhaps no other star in the entire cinematic history of the world has played the lead role and shouldered such big budgets beyond the age of 60.

Rajini for all practical reason is a Superhero, most of us want to see him as an eternal youth which truth to be told is not possible. A fictional character like Superman can be re-imagined by different creators and can be played by different actors, but how will you recreate Rajinikanth? The last such attempt to do so in Kochadaiiyaan was a disaster.

As we enter a new decade it is interesting to see that there is another Rajini film up for release. If we look at his filmography starting from 2010,  he did Enthiran a big budget sci-fi film which was the most unlike Rajini film and did wonders at box office.  Then he saw him continuing his experimental spirit with Kochadaiiayan which backfired, leading him to go back to an outdated formula film Lingaa which also resulted in a failure at the box office. The longevity in his career is due to his understanding of trends and taking constructive criticism feedback positively.

Rajini played a role which suited his age in Kabali, a bold move with a director who is known for speaking up for marginalized Indians.  Then he followed it up with Kaala, a film which also did not follow up the usual Tamizh tropes template with a pro-Ambedkarite story. It was a huge risk for any actor in India.  Rajini returned to his commercial route with Petta last year.

It is a dream for any filmmaker to work with Rajini, a star of such stature gives you a certain budget and also the scope for filmmaker is huge. But there in lies the catch; how do directors balance out the actor and star without compromising on their narrative, apart from Enthiran no one has been able to walk the tight rope.  A.R. Murugadoss who is a poor man’s Shankar is one director who elevates heroism to another level.  

To get straight to the point, Darbar is one of the weakest film from both Rajini and Murugadoss.  The reason why Shankar or Murugadoss elevates hero to another level is because of the villains in their films.Take the case of Murugadoss’ breakout film, Ghajini a film which had the name of villain as a title. The audience’s interest and anticipation only increases when there is a villain who is a step ahead of the hero. Here the villain is not even introduced properly. Remember Padayappa which had a strong antagonist in the film, making an interesting watch.

Darbar has its moments, but it is not because of Murugadoss but because of Rajini. Alas the style needs to be backed by substance which is not the case here. Murugadoss is confused between making an actioner and family drama, resulting eventually in a mess which makes it barely watchable.

The film’s backdrop is Mumbai, but unlike Thuppakki or even Rajni’s Kaala where the city served a purpose in storytelling and was a character, here in this movie, we hardly see Mumbai,. For that matter it could have been any city in the whole world and it would not have made any difference to the story. 

Murugadoss used songs effectively for an action sequence in Sarkar, it was refreshing and played to the gallery. But he uses it again here and we know all the tropes of Ram-Laxman now, the choreography of action is the only thing which elevates the scene Is Rajini.

As Rajni enters his 70s, it would be interesting to see how he is going to position himself. Can he reinvent himself as a character artist, will fans allow him to play anything other than lead characters? Will directors who have grown up on his films be able to justify his presence or just bank on his star power.

In the end this is a missed opportunity and the search for the perfect Rajini film continues for the fan. Till then Baasha and Sivaji The Boss should satiate the fans.

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