First it is time for a confession. I am not a Rajini fan; I am a THALAIVAR FANATIC! So much so that when the legend was in Malaysia for shooting the very movie which I would be reviewing below, I hunted him down like a bloodhound for 3 days playing Russian Roulette with fate before the latter gave up its obdurate stance, yielded and contrived to bestow upon me my life’s greatest privilege– a private audience with the Superstar for 15 minutes and an autographed personal copy of Living With The Himalayan Masters!
Now that the facts are out of the way it is time for an unbiased, impassioned and candid review of Kabali, the directorial offering of PA Ranjith. The hype surrounding the movie (as is the case with any Rajini release) was close to unprecedented with Airlines vying with jewelers to nudge themselves into the maniacal marketing pyramid. The last time Rajini wore the mantle of a full fledged gangster was in the immortal and eponymous epic “BAASHA”. Hence it was with great anticipation and unbounded expectations that I rushed to view the premiere screening of Kabali at an archaic shopping mall in KL which boasted a theatre imaginatively named “MY Cinemas”. MY Cinemas’ desperate and urgent need of a makeover mirrored the lacuna that is the feature of Kabali! Yes you read it right! Kabali is 150 minutes of unmitigated disaster! If Manick Baasha was the Don Vito Corleone of Indian cinema, Kabaliswaran a.k.a Kabali is an abstruse saviour of the downtrodden Tamil populace in Malaysia. Kabali leaves his ardent fans ambivalent, agonized and asking “WHY?”
While Ranjith leaves a lot to be desired and more, the following are the 7 primary and gaping reasons why Kabali does not strike a chord with even the most ardent of Rajini worshippers
1. Total Absence of a formidable Foe
A Rajini movie is invariably made memorable by the presence of an antagonist who duels with the protagonist in an unrelenting and gripping way. While Manick Baasha squared off with the evil Anthony, Padayappa found his feminine nemesis in Nilambari. The Luddite Annamalai had to test his skills against Ashok while the king of Style Shivaji/”MGR” had to contend with the devious and ruthless Adikeshavan. Even Lingaa faced a low profile albeit impactful enemy in M.P.Nagabooshan. More the stellar cast of villains, more memorable the movie! The late Raghuvaran, Ramya Krishnan, Suman, Prabhakar and Jagapathi Babu all combined to enhance and embellish the aura that surrounded Rajini.
What or who do we have in Kabali for the ultimate face off? A Chinese gang lord going by the ill conceived name of Tony Lee (Winston Chau) who has a coterie of Indian lackeys to do his hacking and haggling! The incomprehensible mumbo jumbo of Tamil spoken (or miserably attempted to rather) by Winston Chua jars the nerves and makes for some extremely painful viewing. With no actor of repute to essay the most vital role of an anti-hero, Kabali disappoints immensely in all its confrontational sequences.
2. Zero Punchlines
The punch lines of Rajini constitute the lifeline of his movies. Even a Rajini fan to whom Tamil sounds like a customized version of Greek and Latin would more often than not be successful in proudly hollering “NAAN ORU THARAVAI SONNA NOORU THARAVAI SONNA MAADHIRI” or “EN VAZHI THANEEEE VAZHI”. Kabali however does not have a single comparable punch line of note to offer. The dialogues are subdued, the challenges mellow and the narrative damp. What is a Rajini movie without a proper punch line? The answer – KABALI
3. When Magizhchi does not actually mean good
When the official teaser of Kabali hit You Tube, one phrase attracted the viewers no end – Rajini elegantly folding his palms and saying “Magizhchi”. This captured the imagination of millions and the word almost found a welcome revival in the Tamil Lexicon. However in the actual movie, a total hash has been made of this term. It has been over employed to the extent constituting abuse. One would be tempted to ask for a ban on using “Magizhchi” in movies more than 3 times! The beautiful word has been over laundered so much that it resembles a shirt that has been carelessly albeit repeatedly washed by a Dhobi before his donkey chews away a good part of it!
4. Rajini Laughs
Thalaivar has a laughter that is distinctive yet ominous. Whenever threatened with dire consequences, Rajini first breaks into a hearty laughter with an ominous ring to it, before wading into a stream of powerful riposte. PA Ranjith either has not seen BAASHA, PADAYAPPA, MOONRU MUGAM, & ENTHIRAN or has no clue how to manipulate this unique laughter. What happens with Magizhchi gets extrapolated to this laughter. Needless laughter punctuates many scenes thereby taking the life out of many potential winning sequences.
5. Free Life Foundation
The less said the better!
6. Who the hell is Ranjith’s Target Audience
The popularity of the Entertainer of the Decade and one of the most influential and adoring personas of Indian cinema is encapsulated in a powerful dialogue by Lakshmi in Padayappa. She says that Padayappa has the characteristic traits of camphor. A ball of camphor immediately lights up irrespective of whether the hand striking a match to it belongs to an affluent individual or a poverty stricken wretch. Rajini transcends both class and mass. His is an inimitable stratosphere which to the other aspiring and established actors will always remain a distant and unreachable dream. Fans of Rajini straddle all social, economic and cultural strata. This precious tenet is rend asunder by PA Ranjith in Kabali. With many scenes having been shot entirely in the language of Bahasa Melayu, the official language of Malaysia, and the audience is left reeling having to cope with disjointed moments which resemble a crude cut and paste job on a word document . PA Ranjith seems to be at a loss to decipher whether this movie is meant solely for the Malaysian audience or for the consumption of the global public.
7. Where art Thou THALAIVAA?
In Samuel Beckett’s celebrated play “Waiting For Godot”, two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly and in vain for the arrival of someone named Godot. After the first 10 minutes of Kabali, following the introduction of Rajini (a crude take of Nicholas Cage exercising behind bars in Con Air), the devoted fan is left – thirsting like a man with parched lips desperately scouring for an oasis in the middle of a scorching desert – waiting for his demigod to appear on the screen. The regal and magisterial presence that unmistakably looms large and overshadows every other actor is unfortunately non-existent.
Like Vladimir and Estragon, I also waited – waited for my Thalaivar with a heart swelling with pride and blood pumping and coursing through my veins. Alas! PA Ranjith, – woe betide the man – never gave me the unbridled pleasure of experiencing him!
While Radhika Apte and Dhansika do veritable justice to their roles, Nasser impresses with a cameo performance.
Neruppu Da leaves a lingering note in the ears long after the movie is done.
It is time for Thalaivar to get rid of the avant garde young guns and revert to the proficiency of the big daddies. We want the Thalaivar verve, the Rajini Swag and the Superstar Style to knock us sideways and senseless – yet again!
Place that SOS call to Shankar and get CHITTI 2.0 off the Production Line NOW!