There is this particular sequence in Pa Ranjith’s Kabali, where Rajinikanth playing his age, returns to India in search of his long-lost wife, along with his daughter Dhansika. What would the sixty-year-old man, who had spent the past couple of decades mourning the loss of his sweet-heart, be going through? What would be the kind of emotions running in his mind? Doubt? Guilt? Anxiety? Excitement? What follows is not something we see in our cinemas. We are pulled into this poignant, mature romance by Ranjith with the confidence and mettle of a seasoned film-maker, and made to cheer for the soon-to-be-united ageing couple. But beyond all compelling character motives, it’s just one man who steals the show right under the film-maker’s nose and makes it almost impossible for us to look at anyone else in the frame.
You must watch him strut outside to the gardens, and slump on the floor, struggling to control his mixed emotions of feverish joy to understand what I am talking about. But it’s not over yet. Throughout this heart-warming episode which ends with the passionate Maya Nadhi, the man effortlessly owns the screen with his nuanced emotions of agonised anticipation so much so that we can’t help but feel thankful for Kabali, which has brought alive another dimension of the Superstar after quite a long, long time.
Finally, someone has used the mystical ease with which Rajinikanth keeps millions of eyes glued at him to intelligent use indeed. And what a magical experience, it turns out to be.
But unfortunately, this kind of magic doesn’t stretch throughout the film. Ranjith sets out to tell the tale of a don, who had lost touch for twenty five years, go through the process of revenge and reclamation. He takes the linear route to tell his story, and as a result, some of the early emotional sequences lack the bite of both Ranjith and Rajinikanth. The writing comes across as highly temperamental, and it’s the screen-presence and charisma of the Superstar that rises up to save the say on many an occasion.
This isn’t to say that the narrative is plain boring, but coming from a film-maker like Ranjith, it is only natural that we expect to be blown away. A couple of scenes impress here and there, but on the whole, a feeling of ‘missing something’ predominates. Thinking about it, a little more time and resources could have been invested in the staging many of the scenes, for instance, the way the back-story unfolds and the manner in which Kabali gets back at its adversaries. Some of the scenes seem disjointed, with the pace of the movie getting affected. Even if we overlook these inadequacies for the sake of the brilliant scenes scattered in between, it’s very hard to forgive the last half an hour, which comes across as a definite dampener, with forced ideological dialogues and a complete lack of imagination. But beyond all that, you need to give to Ranjith for the sheer guts of having conceptualised that climax for a Rajini movie.
To be happy seeing the Superstar in this new avatar where he absolutely kicks ass transporting us to his ‘raw-actor’ days or feel frustrated thinking about the innumerable ways the movie could have been scripted and staged better… the choice is yours!
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