Review – Kabali (2016)

It’d be wrong to say I absolutely enjoyed Thalaivar’s latest outing. However, it must also be said that ‘Kabali’ isn’t a flick that follows the typical goofy and over-the-top masala entertainer template (of the actor himself) from his earlier years. There is neither any forced comedy, nor any catchy one-liners or Rajni doing any totally insane stunts (like the one we saw towards the climax in ‘Lingaa’). Director Ranjith’s stamp is evident throughout as he limits the action to only wherever the necessity arises. The movie is a subtly nuanced low-brow drama for most part before the interval, post which we are handed out some bloated gangster scenarios and sheer bloodbath.

What I liked most about Kabali is the fact that Rajni, for a good part of the run-time, held the elegant demeanor of a normal family-man (husband, father) and Pa Ranjith needs to be given a pat on his back for reminding us of the’actor’ Rajni we’d been missing out all this while. Few scenes that involve the combination of Rajni-Radhika Apte and Rajni-Dhansika are executed sufficiently well. Both the ladies bring in their unique styles and warmth to the otherwise grim proceedings. Winston Chao looks dashing in his velvety suits but I am not exactly sure if he was a great villain or not. The fault therein lies in the screenplay for making his character and many others look like cardboard cutouts with barely anything substantial to add to the storyline other than the obvious. Almost all characters are portrayed in shades of black or white.

Few characters exhibit shades of grey as well such as the one played by Kalaiyarasan but leave lesser impact than intended. What I found pretty boring are the flashback portions in the first half. It shows the rise of Rajni as a rebellious don yes, but where it fails head-over-heels is the fact that unlike what Ranjith and much of the pre-release hype claimed, the movie barely focuses on the wrongdoings done to Malaysian Tamils on a bigger canvas when it had the perfect opportunity to do so. Just one scene where Rajni blurts out (in English) the need for ‘equal pay for all’ to an estate manager wasn’t exactly all that convincing to buy any sort of empathy from me as viewer.

The songs by Santhosh Narayanan are amazing but mostly relegated to the background, as if every track was intitally added as BGM and later reworked. Cinematography was quite alright, and few drone shots were interestingly pulled off. What Pa Ranjith could’ve turned into a benchmark of a gangster film looks sortof jaded and mediocre because of the strictly subpar screenplay, unlike his earlier ‘Madras’ or ‘Attakathi’. There is nothing particularly impactful happening in the first half of the movie until the interval block. These scenes could’ve been rewritten or reworked with another experienced writer and maybe, just maybe they would’ve worked wonders. The supporting cast (Dinesh, Nasser, John Vijay, Kishore etc.) give in their all to make the film look really polished on the outside. If Ranjith could’ve diverted some of the attention from the [seen-before scenario of] drugs, murder and extortion to the real wrongdoings done to Malaysian Tamils, the film would have left an even bigger impression. Agree the film would look more docu-dramaish than it already is, but atleast it would’ve been a movie that drove home a solid point.

In this case, the viewer just GETS TO KNOW that Ranjith had a REAL STORY to tell, but lost focus since he had to cater to SuperStar’s massive fan-base and ultimately ended up fully satisfying neither the fan nor the general viewer. At best, Kabali is a one-time watch for Rajni’s on-screen charisma and Radhika Apte’s womanly charm.

Handed out lavish budgets and big stars to work with, quite a few small-time Tamil directors seem to have experienced setbacks in their recent ventures. Take a look at ‘Puli’ by Chimbu Deven or ’10 Enradhukulla’ by Vijay Milton or ‘Masss’ by Venkat Prabhu or ‘Billa 2’ by Chakri Toleti. ‘Kabali’ is by all means few notches above these films but when it could’ve been a sureshot trendsetter, it just seems content with being an ‘OKAY’ film.

**1/2 stars outof five

Watch the teaser-trailer here:

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