The very definition of a "Rajinikanth Movie" was redefined in Kabali when director Ranjith attempted to douse off the sparks around the star and made him look more mortal. But, that movie suffered from an erratic script that neither did justice to the filmmaker nor the star. Kaala is an extension of that where the filmmaker and the actor have once more joined hands. Maybe to right the wrong? Well, how engaging was Kaala then?
Set in Dharavi, Mumbai, Asia's biggest slum, the movie is about the war between the power-hungry political class and the downtrodden. In the cinematic parlance, its the existential good versus evil or Kaala (Rajinikanth) versus Haridev Abhyankar (Nana Patekar).
A man who is one among the oppressed, leading them to salvage their basic rights is considered to be the common narrative structure for any commercial movie. Pa.Ranjith whose films hinge on the state of Dalits and the politics that hinder their growth has once again wielded the axe on the larger bureaucracy and takes the communal leadership to task.
The movie, especially the first half was refreshing. The narrative struck a common ground in keeping up with the star image of the actor and also established the larger agenda of the movie. Kaala's familial bonding was very well portrayed. Easwari Rao as the house lady seemed garrulous at first. But, as the film progressed, her character grew on the audience, and once again we've been made to take note of an actress who has been underrated all these years and has made a strong comeback. Well done!
Huma Qureshi's role was largely an add-on, but then, there was a sly romantic subplot which played out well in the first half. Especially, a quaint triangular possessive war between Rajini, Eswari and Huma kept the first half alive!
The youngest kid of the family, Lenin (Manikandan), his socio-political ideology and the constant tiff that he has with his rogue father (Kaala) was another under-explored equation but nevertheless added to the much larger debate - violence versus non-violence. Samuthirakani as the ever-inebriated Valliappan, a glorified sidekick is the famous "Johnny" character's equivalent of Pa.Ranjith's "Madras". He served as the ice-breaker for some lighter episodes.
Nana Patekar as the power-hungry king-maker was a generic villain. He was suave and merciless. But an actor of such a calibre could have been better utilized. Nevertheless, he was a solid villain for a "Rajinikanth movie".
Rajinikanth had a layered character. Apart from the basic superstar material that made him swag and do cool stuff, one could witness a veteran who has come a long way and tasted like an old wine, matured, and willing to give that extra kick! His chemistry with Eswari Rao was fantastic and they both made a great pair on screen!
Music by Santhosh Narayanan was largely a miss! The rap swags were fine, but the other songs were very much situational and can only be watched with the mood of the movie. The BGM was too loud and jarring. Cinematography and art departments have scored handsomely in bringing Dharavi to life. The people who inhabit the slums and their lives were established with so many existential nuances, like a goat that is tied to an apartment door or a dark cramped space, when lit shows couples in cosy positions, to name a few.
However, the narrative towards the climax lost its path. There were more blood, gore, riots, fire, chaos and above all never-ending protests! For a movie that's 170 minutes long, the portion of protests alone would have swallowed half its length. And what makes it worse is that we know who is the winner at the end, given the fact it's a "Rajinikanth movie". In general, the second half was a letdown and was filled with melodrama and a typical revenge!
Director Ranjith has certainly got some things right with Kaala, but there's a long way for him to travel as a filmmaker, as the screenplay cannot be filled with his own political agenda. A film, especially the one with Rajinikanth has to hold water for everyone including his own fans!