Some of us don’t need 7 reasons to watch a movie starring Rajni. Just one reason is enough - Rajni aka Rajinikanth aka Superstar aka Thalaivar. We would have planned for the movie months in advance, eagerly awaiting every tidbit about the movie, celebrating everything about the movie like its teasers, songs, interviews etc. So, the real Rajni fans won’t be waiting for any reviews to book their tickets, and most probably would have already watched Kabali, at least once. They might however be reading the reviews, including this one, to reflect on the movie, and see if the critic is able to match their own individual experiences. For GCinemas’ unbiased critic review, check this one. The following review is a reflection on Kabali experience, written by a fan, for whom Rajni is more than an actor. He is my idol. He is my hero, the one and only.
1.Rajni, the superstar
Rajni’s movie releases are not mere movie releases but festivals by themselves. Even corporate companies declare holiday on the release day, as their employees abscond to catch FDFS of his movie. This won’t be happening for any other actor, anywhere in the world. His fanbase is phenomenal. He is a phenomenon!
There are so many records that are beaten/set by Kabali - first tamil movie to be released in some of the world’s biggest cinema halls like Le Grand Rex, first tamil movie to be dubbed in Malay, YouTube teaser record for Indian movies, highest screen count, box office opening and so on. It would need a separate article to focus on just its achievements.
We are so much used to seeing similar kind of Rajni movies, where the following elements are guaranteed - comedy, romance, action, sentiment, political undertones and his unbeatable mannerisms/style. Anything out of this would be a danger zone for the producers - like Baba, Kuselan, Kochadaiyaan etc. But lately, even a successful director like K.S.Ravikumar couldn’t make Lingaa a resounding success, even though these elements were present. Something was missing. May be the pulse has changed and the general audience are expecting more. So Rajni goes to a director, who is just two films old but has given critically acclaimed movies. This is so unsettling, and creates doubts in the minds of the fans about the movie’s prospects. But through the movie’s teaser, Ranjith shows that he can pull off a Superstar movie with gusto. More here - http://www.gcinemas.com/blog/201....
How much Superstar did we get in Kabali?
Ranjith has already mentioned several times in his interviews that this wouldn’t be a usual mass masala movie but his style of film, with a story built around a don character from Malaysia. However, the teaser had (may be unintentionally) promised an out and out mass movie. So the fans were still expecting a Rajni movie, and not prepared for Ranjith’s movie. The opening sequences were terrific and reiterated that superstar magic was all intact, evoking loudest of the whistles and hoots. We were repeating ‘Neelambari’ Ramya Krishnan’s dialogue from Padayappa. His walk, style, power, sarcasm, smile - nothing has lost its sheen. He could still make us believe his punches are solid. His sarcasm was seething as ever. But after that, there is a slowdown of mass moments and the director Ranjith took over. After that, I counted the number of times the fans went berserk on the first show in Sydney - six times. There were six mass moments for the fans to drool. One of them was Rajni’s 80s vintage look. Younger Rajni was rocking. I would have preferred more of him but his portion ended too soon. It was a like a pattern in the cinema hall among the fans - “wow!” followed by silent watching followed by a “wow! or oh!” and then again silent, and finally ending with the biggest “wow!” - with Neruppuda in the background.
Btw, when I say silent, don’t mistake it for boring. Ranjith was showing the audience how we were all missing the biggest competitor to actor Kamal Hassan - Rajni, the actor, and that takes us to the next point.
2. Rajni, the actor
In the last two or three decades, I have seen Rajni handling emotional sequences so well. When he cried in Muthu or even in Arunachalam, I had moist eyes (Ok, I confess - I was weeping while watching Vidukathaya song, like I was doing when Surya reunited with his mother in Thalapathi. That man gets to me when he cries!). He is as much romantic as Kamal Hassan - I still remember the teen guy in me sheepishly watching Rajni kissing Meena. Few would dispute that he is one of the best comedians in Tamil cinema, and comedy is such an integral part of his movies. In Muthu, Yejamaan, Chandramukhi, Sivaji, Enthiran or even in Baba and Lingaa, he was competing with all the major comedians like Goundamani, Vadivelu, Vivek, Senthil and Santhanam. Many of the modern day heroes cannot stand near his comic timing. Though he lacks in dance, he more than makes up for it with his mannerisms and impeccable style. Especially, when it comes to style, he is irreplaceable. However, we were all missing the actor in him that we saw in Mullum Malarum, Johnny or many of his 80s movies. Last time I was so impressed by his acting was in Thalapathi. It is one of his best performances till date and even one of Mani Ratnam’s best movies.
Ranjith had mentioned in his interviews that he wanted to name this movie Kali, after Rajni’s character in Mullum Malarum. But because of the bad sentiment attached to Rajni’s other movie named Kali, they went for Kabali. I feel Kabali is better because it is a name closely attached to Tamil roots. We could see Kabali as an extension of Kali character. (There is even a nod to the famous dialogue - Ketta payyan sir, intha Kali!)
So, how much actor Rajni did we see in Kabali?
There is no comedy in Kabali. It would have spoiled the mood for sure. When the lead character is saying he is already too old and there are lots of things to accomplish, there can’t be any room for comedy. But you could see the rest of the stuff you were expecting from Rajni for a long time. After Thalapathi, Rajni delivers one of the most mature and best performances of his career. He even allows the director to show him being vulnerable and rescued by a lady from a shootout site. You ought to watch his smile amidst that chaos going in slow motion before interval. I appreciate the amount of confidence Rajni had on Ranjith in allowing him to mold his character and extract a performance as required for the story, and not the other way around.
Nowhere does Rajni overact. His anger is genuine. You realise how powerful his eyes are (once again!). The young Rajni makes you believe he is just in his 30s (I acknowledge the brilliant makeup by Bhanu but the energy is his.) The old Rajni, who has lost his wife and child, shows his sadness through his tired walk. He subtly lets the audience understand what could be going through his mind with his body language. Sometimes he smiles, even though you could see there is sadness in him. He even lets out his loud laughter few times to make himself at ease among others. He trembles and gets very emotional, when he hears some shocking news. After a certain portion of the story is over, he is more relaxed than before, but he is still on the edge, as he is not done with his work yet. He shows more confidence with his brisk walk this time.
Overall it was a brilliant performance from Rajni, and it is not an understatement to say that he carries the whole movie on his shoulders. Thanks to Ranjith, we could see Rajni, the actor, once again.
3. Pa. Ranjith’s writing and direction
Pa. Ranjith is just two films old, as I mentioned before. But both the movies were about characters from the oppressed section of the society, and their different kind of struggles in this modern world. He creates a don character, Kabali, belonging to a generation of Tamils that has roots in Tamilnadu but put to work in Malaysian plantations as slaves decades ago. Tamils/Indians in Malaysia need to prove their equality among the Malays and economically powerful Chinese. Here, Kabali is fighting against a Chinese don - Tony Lee, who uses economically downtrodden Tamils as drug traffickers. In the opening scene, you could see Kabali reading Prof YG Satyanarayana’s “My father Balaiah” (You may search about this book, like I did). The don character wears suits to rebel against the stereotyping of Tamils in Malaysia and to show that he is equal to anyone else. He compares his decision to wear suits with that of Ambedkar’s and Gandhi’s choices of dressing. Some of the punches the don speaks can be considered as Ranjith’s way of showing the anger towards dalit oppression. The best ones are
“உனக்கு நான் முன்னுக்கு வரது பிடிக்கலேன்னா, நான் முன்னுக்கு வருவேண்டா! Suit போடுவேன்டா! உன் முன்னாடி கால் மேல கால் போட்டு உக்காருவேண்டா!” (If you don’t like me coming up in the society, I will come up. I will wear suit. I will sit before you with gusto.)
நான் ஆண்ட பரம்பரைல இருந்து வராம இருந்துருக்கலாம். ஆனா நான் ஆள பிறந்தவன்டா! (I may not be born to rulers. But I am born to rule.)
When it comes to Kabali’s personal life, he looks devastated because his wife is not with him now. He doesn’t even know whether his pregnant wife gave birth to a son or daughter, or died before delivery. This characterization is brilliant. The way Ranjith developed his backstory, and whether he is able to find what happened to his wife and kid, proves Ranjith’s capabilities. I’m specifically avoiding to provide more details here, as I don’t want to spoil the movie. Ranjith is at ease in this area.
He shows different customs followed by Tamils, Malays and Chinese throughout the movie, and there are even some mingled customs like the sword Tony Lee puts over a dead body, or the dresses worn by the Malaysian people in general. The gangs are addressed by numbers 00 or 43, and the bad gang’s number 43 is designed as a dragon. Tamil, Malay and Chinese languages are used as they are, with Malaysian Tamil accent perfected. The social issues mentioned in the movie are based on real issues in Malaysia. There are so many other small things you would miss (and I missed some of them too till I read this one - http://visithra.blogspot.com.au/2016/07/detailed-explanation-of-kabali-movie.html) They show Ranjith’s research and meticulous detailing.
He uses metaphors to drive his points. Kabali frees a bird from a cage saying “உன்னோட இந்த கருணை அதோட சாவை விட கொடூரமாணுது " (Your mercy to put her in a cage to save from bigger birds is more cruel than killing it). Even Kabali revolting against Tony Lee and Veera Sekaran could be considered as a metaphor.
Having said all the above, was Ranjith able to carry out the humongous task of delivering a ‘Thalaivar’ movie meeting the audience’s expectations? Sadly, he didn’t manage to meet all the expectations. There were few missteps in his writing and direction, which I cover in a separate section below.
4. Santhosh Narayanan’s score
Santhosh Narayanan debut movie was Ranjith’s debut as well. From Attakathi to now, Santhosh has grown leaps and bounds. He is one of the few musicians who has original touch, and gives brilliant songs and background scores consistently. Ranjith used him in his second movie Madras as well, and now in his biggest movie of his career. Rajni has been working mostly with A.R. Rahman for the past two decades. When he took a leap of faith for Ranjith, he did for other technical crew as well. Probably Ranjith convinced him about his crew as well. When the Kabali teaser started, and Arunraja Kamaraj screamed “Neruppu da”, we all knew we are in for a special treat. After the audio launch, the reach of the songs proved once again that Santhosh is an apt choice for Kabali. What was left to seen was how well the songs were picturised and how effective his BGM was.
Some of the songs were added in the background, to not hamper the flow of the movie. While I have a problem with Ulagam oruvanukka, Vaanam Paarthen’spicturisation was fine. Neruppu da was used effectively at the end. Santhosh’s BGM was terrific. He didn’t spoil the mood in some dramatic scenes by going overboard and chose silence when necessary. The rap that played when Kabali was climbing up with the Petronas twin towers was class. I wished it to go on for a little while. Overall, Santhosh did an impressive job considering the amount of expectations he had to meet.
5. Supporting cast
Though there are some issues with the character development of the supporting cast (which I will cover below), the cast did a good job in delivering what is expected of them. John Vijay as Kabali’s friend Amir, Dinesh as an over enthusiastic (couldn’t find a better equivalent for ஆர்வக்கோளாறு) loyal sidekick Jeeva, Kalaiarasan as Tamil Kumaran, Nassar as Tamil Nesan, Charles Vinoth as Tamil Maaran, Gajaraj (Karthik Subburaj’s dad) as Maarthandam, R. Amarendran as Velu, Mime Gopi as Loganathan, 'Johnny' Hari as Tiger, Uday Mahesh as Durai, and Riythvika as Meena were all fine.
The villains are the second most important characters in all Rajni’s mass movies. Powerful villains would mean the pleasure of beating them would be more satisfying. Kishore is perfect as cunning Veerasekaran and effortless as second in command after the don, Tony Lee. But Winston Chao couldn’t make us believe that he was a powerful don, who is a worthy enemy to Kabali. Worse, when he uttered some dialogues at the end, the audience were laughing at him. He is one of the weak points in the movie. The other sidekicks are not developed further, except one that barks (literally) at the end.
Dhansika gets one of her meatiest roles of her career, playing an assassin with an assignment to eliminate Kabali. She starts well with enough confidence and controlled arrogance. But there are few inconsistencies in her characterisation and that show in her fumbling towards the end.
Last but not least, Radika Apte’s role should be considered as an extended cameo. Her acting in one of the best scenes of the movie is sure to bring tears (and Rajni played a huge part in that to gather all those emotions to a crescendo). However, her character as well had a bland closure.
6. Anbarivu’s stunts
Stunt master twins Anbu and Arivu, going by one name Anbarivu, have taken care of the stunts. The opening scene features one of the short and sweet fight sequences, with Rajni delivering a mass dialogue at the end, as seen in the teaser. The action sequences are not too over the top and they suit Rajni’s charisma. The loud cheers from the fans, whenever Rajni gets into a fist fight or gunfight, acknowledge their solid work. I also have to mention about Santhosh’s terrific BGM and G. Murali’s slow-motion cinematography, while capturing the stunts.
7. Tha. Ramalingam’s art direction and Anu Vardhan’s costumes
Being a big fan of Rajni, Tha. Ramalingam has given his best in his department. He takes care of setting the 80s period right, and the streets of Bangkok come alive with his artwork. Anu Vardhan’s costumes reflect the multicultural Malaysian society. Rajni is any costume designer’s dream to get him wear their dresses, as anything would fit him. Be it vintage Rajni’s colorful shirts and lungi, or his neat suits with white shirts, Anu has done a brilliant job. Also, her dresses for Winston Chao are nice.
What could have been better?
I felt few things in Kabali didn’t workout as intended or expected. They could have been developed or executed better.
Ranjith’s writing and direction
*Spoilers ahead* - you may skip it till you watch the movie.
First and foremost, the story of a don coming up from a downtrodden society and beating up another powerful don is a very predictable one. However, the screenplay could have been written better to make it interesting with unpredictable deceptions. Any movie goer with a bit of knowledge about crime/gangster genre will be able to guess the twists miles away. Then, there are loopholes. A Kabali gang member, while having a gun in his pocket, gets a golden opportunity to meet the enemy don so close. How does he utilise the opportunity? He just grabs the collar of the don’s shirt, who is sitting inside a car! So, how does the don escape from the unexpected shirt-grab? He just asks the driver to move the car and closes the window. Phew! Whatever happens in the climax could have happened immediately after Kabali was released from the jail, or at least few weeks after that. But for reasons unknown, it was postponed till the third act.
Ranjith has revealed in his interviews that he first developed the don character, and then he built a story around him and other characters were developed. This is not an issue, if this process is completely concealed. I mean, the audience shouldn’t know whether the story was developed first or the main characters, if unrevealed. Everything should be neatly blended. While Kabali character has been etched out neatly, the other important characters like don Tony Lee, or his right hand Veerasekaran are half-baked. They don’t seem to have any families. The don is present even in situations that doesn’t warrant his presence. They don’t have any solid plans to tackle Kabali (and neither does Kabali till the last moment). There are other smaller villains (similar to Anand Raj’s character in Baasha). But their backstories are fleetingly shown, and when they meet their ends, there was not much impact.
Radhika Apte and Danshika’s characters suddenly lose their importance or change their nature dramatically. Nassar’s character do not evoke any sincere respect we need to feel for a leader. The dialogues/direction should also be blamed for that, as whatever he uttered felt so artificial. This reduces the impact in the flashback portion to a considerable extent. We even don’t have a connection with Kabali’s closest friend Amir (I think about Manickam’s friend Baasha here, and how we felt connected with him).
I understand Ranjith cannot make 100% his style of movie, when there is a powerful star like Rajni. He could have done it with Karthi but not with the superstar. So he tried to do a balance act of making it both a Rajni film and Ranjith film. But that didn’t work, as he fumbles at both the sides. When we expect him to get deep into social issues faced by Tamils, he skips them for Rajni. When we expect him to develop a strong enemy for Rajni, he completely moves away to a different track. This to me is the biggest of all the worries about Kabali, and it considerably brings down the enjoyment. Had he made a complete Ranjith movie, may be the Rajni fan in me might have got offended. But if I were to witness even more impactful performance from Rajni, may be I could have accepted the movie wholeheartedly, and hailed it as another ‘Mullum Malarum’. Or if he had ditched his style and made it a commercial potboiler, may be the fan in me would have got satisfied. The cat didn’t jump either side of the wall leading to various levels of disappointments among the audience.
Having said the above, it is a very tough task to manage the expectations for a Rajni movie. Even a seasoned commercial director like K.S.Ravikumar fumbled in Lingaa. But considering Ranjith’s overall performance, Kabali is still a good effort. He knows his craft and can do better when he doesn’t need to worry about the star’s image. He is much better than some current overrated directors in Tamil cinema, and he surely will give us fine movies in the future.
K. L. Praveen’s editing
Many might feel that the movie is bit slow in the second half but I reckon that majority of those sequences where Kabali travels outside of Malaysia cannot be rushed. It was intentionally slow, as it was necessary for building up the emotions and increase the suspense. So the editor might have abided by the script. However, there are few sections that could have been trimmed to make the movie even racier.
G. Murali’s cinematography
Though Murali has done a good job capturing the action sequences, majority of the portions captured in Malaysia are not slick enough. For example, the shots look so amateurish in the opening song sequence, as if it was a television serial. There might have been practical difficulties in capturing the scenes in crowded areas in Malaysia. There is a scene, where the camera slowly pans out from an indoor location to outside, and then ends up with an aerial shot. It is a well executed sequence involving cinematography, editing and possible VFX. There could have been more of these nice executions.
To summarize, Kabali will be remembered for Rajni’s powerful performance and Ranjith’s eagerness to document the history of Malaysian Tamils.
Critic rating: 6/10
Fan rating: 7/10
Verdict: Witness one of the finest performances from Rajni in decades!Analysis, Rajinikanth, 6, 7, Review, Tamil, 2016