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