Director: Pa Ranjith
Cast: Rajinikanth, Radhika Apte, Nasser, Dinesh, Dhanshikaa
Verdict: Not close to perfect as a script, but an enjoyable watch with Rajinikanth giving it his vintage best
Kabali is head and shoulders above the Superstar's last two outings -- Lingaa and Kochadaiiyaan -- but it's far from being a shoo in for when they make a blu-ray disc of Rajinikanth's greatest hits.
The good news first
Rajinikanth is a powerhouse and rocks this outing as a sixty-something don with ease, flair and just the right amount of reserve. Through the 152-minute film, Rajini manages to turn in a stellar performance without the hindrance of the usual commercial vices that producers tend to foist on him -- a protracted comedy track, song and dance sequences, make up to make him look half his age, unrealistic romance sequences, etc. Radhika Apte is fantastic, playing Rajini's wife, who is reunited with him after he is paroled from jail. Her eyes and clear expression do most of the talking.
Honestly, Rajini's performance as Malaysian welfare-oriented don Kabaleeswaran is one of the
major factors that make the film watchable. And while his dubbing leaves a little to be desired, the dialogues are crisp, deep even, his clothes are mighty fine and he infuses a certain old world violent charm on you, whether he’s walking, driving or kicking some Asian gangster type’s behind.
The down side
What falls flat, and with a director like Ranjith it's difficult to expand on the holes, is the length and undue complexity of the sub-plots. Agreed, weaving a story with multiple characters and subtle plot lines is something he's done with both Madras and Attakathi, but with Kabali, it begins to wear a bit thin. Especially during a lengthy sequence where Kabali and his daughter Yogi (a neat performance by Dhanshikaa) go in search of his wife, whom they'd assumed dead for 25 years. After a point, especially with rival dons and their respective henchmen coming out of the woodwork, it gets confusing. And by extension, tiresome.
The expectations of Ranjith to deliver a story set against the social ills faced by Tamils who have been living in Malaysia for generations, also nosedived. Not enough was said and done about why they felt oppressed and lived as quasi slaves, except for flashback scenes that served to tell us how Rajini gained the hope and respect of the community.
Watching it can also be a task for the average cinema lover
Much as Rajinikanth has experimented with a role two decades older than the ones he usually plays, Rajinikanth fans are also experiencing a strange emotion. Silence.
Silence, because Kabali doesn't quite lay out whistle-worthy sequences for them. Normally, it's fairly standard -- cue in rousing music, slow motion on the twirls, moves, gestures or punch dialogues -- lo and behold, instant karma.
Pa Ranjith's Kabali is a sort of antithesis of that formula. And that is precisely why, for the first time in a decade, I was able to actually watch (and hear) most parts of the first show of a Rajinikanth film, without being interrupted by jumping bodies or a crescendo of cheers and whistles. This also meant that people were actually keeping the lid on to try and make sense of what was going on in the movie – a huge positive that, coming from early-morning Rajini fans.
Before it descends into a cesspool of gangsta violence and bloodshed (how did they get that U certificate, I wonder), Kabali is engaging and a large canvas for the Superstar to show off what he's made off. He does just that, but the splotchy script and unmemorable character slide John Vijay, Dinesh and Kalaiarasan don't really come through.
The cinematography is vibrant and responsive, while the music is a tad too sophisticated, too orchestrated for this movie. And while I'm super kicked that Ranjith wove the songs into the narrative as opposed to having song and dance routines, the background score is just not alive enough in some scenes where Rajini turns up the heat. I mean, if you can't get yourself to look up when he's doing something uber-massy, then you:re clearly not doing it right.
You get the feeling that Ranjith could have done a whole lot more with it, especially with Rajini turning in the kind of performance that he has. Overall, it's an enjoyable watch, provided you've got a certain degree of patience and some undying love for Thalaivar.