Director: Pa. Ranjith
Cast: Rajinikanth, Winston Chao, Radhika Apte, and Dhansika
To be honest, I was very hesitant about going to watch Kabali. After Kochadaiyaan and the hugely disappointing Lingaa, I had pretty much figured that any director who was making a movie with Rajinikath seemed to assume that his presence alone would make up for a lack of plot and movie direction. However, my mother pointed out (quite accurately up till that point) that even if a Rajinikanth movie had no plot, it would at the very least be entertaining.
Rajinikanth plays the usual quintessential saviour of the marginalised Tamils in Malaysia. He is an ageing (or aged) don who has just been released from prison after fighting for the rights of a marginalized Tamil community in Malaysia, which of course makes him well loved by everyone, including the prison inmates. Of course, Rajinikanth is a morally upright don, who has no qualms about cold-bloodedly killing people but refuses to engage with the drug trade or prostitution (we are never told how exactly Rajinikanth’s gang makes money).
The rest of the movie focuses on how he goes about trying to find out more information about his family and also how he eliminates the rival gang’s baddies who ruined his life.
This film gives the audience the impression that director Ranjith would have ideally wanted to make two films with Rajinikanth – a gangster film and a family-orientated film. But because he could only direct one, he forcibly tries to combine both these elements resulting in what appears to be a badly patched together script.
The story is predictable and the storytelling is even more boringly predictable which leaves the audience a little fidgety halfway through the movie. The dialogues sounded forced and unnatural on more than one occasion and it did very little to lift the movie to another level. Worse still, while the main plot itself was not completely developed yet, director Ranjith seemed to have felt a compulsive need to include a sub plot which circled around a mandatory romance which further slowed down the pace of the narrative.
Rajinikanth himself seemed to be missing his usual charismatic spark which more often has the potential to carry any movie confidently over the finishing point. This time round, he looks tired, making it an equally exhausting task for the audience to watch him. In many scenes, he just appears to be going through the various motions of being a father, a hero and a husband – kind of like from muscle memory but with no real enthusiasm.
Radhika Apte, aptly plays the mandatory love interest, which of course does not possess much scope to do anything. She merely exists just like many of the other secondary and underdeveloped characters to make the hero look… well, heroic. Do watch out for one particularly memorable scene in the second half between the Romeo Rajinikanth and Radhika which is sure to fleetingly remind you why this man is considered the Superstar of Indian cinema.
Fundamentally, the problem with the script is that instead of fitting Rajinikanth, an actor, into the script, the entire script was written to encompass Rajinikanth – the star.
There is no doubt that Rajinikanth is a huge star and a good actor. He has an amazing track record to prove it. But for how long more are we going to ignore the mediocrity of his more recent films? How much longer are we going to solely blame movie directors for the failure of his films? Why is it that when a Rajinikanth starrer is successful, we attribute it to the actor but when it fails, everyone else but him is blamed? Why does he deserve this immunity?
I have no doubt that Kabali will go on to become a huge blockbuster (if it already hasn’t) but looking at the quality of the movie, we need to reevaluate and ask ourselves why. Just before the release of this movie, a friend told me that Rajinikanth is God and I guess that is all the explanation I will probably need if this movie becomes a blockbuster.
Then, I will know that this movie watching audience has made the transition from mere devotion to blind devotion. We need to continue to hold our ‘Gods’ and ‘thalaivars’ to high standards and call them out when they slip up, and not keep lowering the standards to help them remain Gods. More importantly, when are we going to tell movie directors that it is not signing on an actor like Rajinikanth that is the ultimate prize but enthralling the audience with a well written and executed script is.