Kabali - A Critic's review

So, finally Kabali has released. It's been over 72 hours as I right this and the euphoria doesn't seem to have faded. And Rajnikanth himself has returned to Chennai on Sunday night (25 July 2016) after his supposed treatment in the US. The film has been much looked forward to by his ardent fans, the Indian Industry at large, the distributors, theatre owners, and even small time printers of flex banners who get a huge business during his movie release. The film released worldwide on Fri. 22 July 2016 with much fanfare. I was among those who had Thalaivar darshan at 4am at Kasi theatre at Chennai. Was super delighted to see him on screen after a gap of two years. People expected to see a different Rajni portrayed in the film, as emphasised by the director of the film, P Ranjith from time to time. And yes, we did see a very different Rajnikanth in the film, something that we haven't seen in over 25-30 years. No over the board antics, no parallel comedy line, no antics like throwing cigarette or bubble gum in the air and most importantly, no running behind 20 somethings around the trees with duet songs and more. Very refreshing characterisation of Rajnikanth by Ranjith, something that suited the actor so well. I would like to first appreciate Rajni for deciding to work with such a young Director who has just 2 films to his credit. At 65, he has taken such a bold script and its Director. And kudos to Ranjith for taking the entire weight on his shoulders - the cast, crew, technicians are all his choices and neither Rajni nor the Producer Thanu had a say in it. The film is scripted well, costumes designed appropriately, sets were very realistic and the BGM / Songs were pleasant to hear. 

As I came out of the theatre, as a cinema critic and as someone who likes Rajni, I gave 4.5/10 for the movie. Why so less? Because i felt there were a few things that were missing in the film. The screenplay was not as tight as the storyline. Honestly, I wasn't too impressed with the teaser that released two months back - the scenes where Rajni is shown in jail were reminiscent of Sivaji (2007). The Director had a great storyline, a super location to shoot without disturbances, unlimited budget from the Producer and most importantly, Rajni himself willing to cooperate as much as required. Here are a few things I felt were missing in the film;

Kabali Da
The Kabali dialogue in the teaser was uttered by kids as young as 2-3 years and people all the way across all ages for over two months. There are so many Dubsmash videos that have been made with this dialogue. But the same dialogue appears in less than 10 minutes of the film's opening!!! This was a shocker. Usually, the best things are kept for the climax, but not here. Once this dialogue followed by "Naan vanduttennu sollu" were over, people felt contended. Paisa vasool. Thalaivar is back. Through the movie, there was nothing that they anticipated - the thing about commercial cinema is making people guess what comes next but in this case, that wasn't the case.

Kabali explains why Indians in Malaysia are no less than the Chinese who are paid more wages in the flashback scene. But beyond that, there is no link to the storyline and why Tamilnesan (Nasser) takes it to the streets to fight oppression. Most people in India have no clue what the tamils who work in SE Asia, ME and other countries go through. So, this part was left wondering by the audience, what's the big deal of a cause that Kabali was fighting for. No one in the audience still knows why Tiger was jailed and later released to go kill Kabali. How did Yogi find out Velu and know her past? Where was Tony Lee hiding all these years? And many such small disconnects. No one in the film uses the typical Malaysian tamil slang "la" in the film - I felt this was a huge disappointment. While the characters use local words such as Gaadi (Car), Kattai (Gun), Katti (Drugs), Saavadi (Super), none of them had a malaysian tamil accent which was quite a surprise.

Actors & Roles
Radhika Apte was a delight to watch although she has a very limited role and scope in the film. but I would say the film revolves around her completely. From the first scene where Kabali sees her pic in the purse to the last scene in the bakery, she is all through the script but very limited screen exposure. Dhansika has played a great role too but didn't have much scope for showcasing her acting skills. John Vijay is a great support to Kabali all through the film although he exits the screenplay abruptly with an accident where he is thrown out of his seat despite wearing a seat belt. Really? Are seat belts so unsafe? And whether the car wouldn't have Air Bags? Attakathi Dinesh is a joke. I still don't know why his character was placed in the film. There is no answer to where and what happens to Rithvika's baby which is taken away by the Government. Too many loose ends of roles and characters.

Children Audience
Kabali has too much violence, mostly gory at times. The scene where the villain chops of Dinesh's hands was just an example. My 7 yo daughter and 10 yo nephew weren't too thrilled about the film either. Both said that the film was too violent, too much bloodbath, fighting and gun sequences. There were also no songs except NeruppuDa which caught the attention of kids all through the build-up of the film. Having said that, one must give it to Rajni and Ranjith to have taken such a bold step.

Except the opening song, Ulagam Oruvanukka, there is no other "song' as such in the film except of bits played here and there. This is a remarkable achievement by Ranjith which we don't see otherwise in Tamil Cinema which is infamous for its grandeur of songs and picturisation. Even the song Neruppuda is entwined in the climax fight although it brings much required cheer among fans with whistles and claps and interlude. There could have been atleast 2-3 song sequences which would have given a break to the audience from the heavy screenplay of over 150 mins.

The Whistle
Until I saw the making of the whistle video, I thought it was created using sound equipment. The Director didn't make much use of the whistle. It could have been the trademark of Kabali's entry into a scene, or a reference to the casual walk that he takes all through the film. The tune appears in the two songs (Ulagam Oruvanukka & NeruppuDa) but beyond that, one doesn't find it all through the film. Remember Baasha or Annamalai or Padayappa or Sivaji, where the Music Directors used the respective tunes so extensively. In hindsight, perhaps Ranjith wanted to break that mould. So be it.

Being chaste tamil names, it was difficult to remember the names of so many characters in the film. Although each one of them have played an insanely awesome role, no doubt but there were just too many of them. And a lot of sundry characters as well like the watchman in the parking lot, Sangili Murgan in the chettiar palace, the tour coordinator and his boss in Chennai, Penelope in Pondicherry. And many more. Each one of them have a meaning in Kabali's life but the audience found it difficult to remember their names and what they did in the past to Kabali and his family. This is a very old way of film making when there would be too many characters who would appear in just a few scenes but would leave an impact. That's the same case here.

The Villains
Tony Lee has played a very mature role. Probably because he was a Chinese and not the typical villain who is dark or fat that is portrayed in tamil films, the audience couldn't take him too seriously. Also, language barrier was a point. And there were too many baddies. From Loga to Velu to Veera Sekar to Marthandam, there were so many of them which the audience was not able to remember in the first instance. Also, except Veera Sekar who has done a splendid performance, all others were very mediocre. Tony Lee falling at Kabali's feet in the climax was quite predictable unlike the twist in Padayappa. Also, Tony Lee sports a clean shaven face in the climax party but sports a stubble in the room sequence, perhaps they were shot in two days back to back. But this is what a Director is supposed to look for.

Overall, the film has just managed to pass the expectations of critics who wrote off the film within a few hours of its release dubbing the film as a an average film sending blinkers to the weekend audience. But as Thalaivar says quite often, Makkal theerpe Magesan theerpu. The film had grossed over 215-220 crores worldwide in its opening weekend and has emerged to become the highest grosser of Tamil Film Industry after the 2010 hit film Enthiran (Robot) also featuring Rajnikanth. 

Superstar and his films are above critical reviews and the ones like above are for personal satisfaction to massage our own egos that we found a few incorrect things about the film. All said and done, on the fourth day of the film's release, Kabali has been declared a super hit and is marching towards the blockbuster status. Rajni has chosen a great script that befits his age and social status. Will he be able to continue to reign in the Emperor's status with his upcoming release 2.0 (sequel to Enthiran) - only time will tell. 


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