There are very few actors for whom age has had little bearing on their star power. Even in their sixties and seventies, they get to be the central characters. Some like Amitabh Bachchan have smoothly transitioned to stories that celebrate their septuagenarian years. Rajinikanth is even luckier, he plays characters that are more or less the same as the ones he played in his thirties and forties, just a grey beard for all the passing years. He still fights, dances and romances young women. Going by the fervor of his fans, he probably doesn’t have a choice.
In his latest outing, Rajinikanth is Karikaalan, or Kaala, for short. A don of Dharavi, he can play gully cricket with the kids as well as slice villains with a sword, or umbrella for that matter. Mumbai is bursting at the seams and the wily rich men have their eyes on the land of Dharavi. And of course, the brains behind the scheme to defraud the poor people of their little possessions is a powerful politician, Hari Dhadha (Nana Patekar). Their paths cross and blood oozes. No prizes for guessing who will win in the end.
The film takes long to come to the point and then never really dwells on it. An hour into the film and the narrative doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Kaala hardly speaks but everyone around him are incessantly jabbering. There’s also a foreign returned Zareena (Huma Quereshi) who is Kaala’s ex. Either Kaala underwent accelerated ageing or Zareena gulped the youth potion, because they certainly don’t look like they could have been in the same age group at any time. Just when you start to wonder if there’s a plan to the story, help arrives in the form of Nana Patekar. He breathes life into a sagging film. The best scenes are the ones where Nana and Rajini spar with each other. Unfortunately, Nana is underutilized in the film. More screen time is devoted to the extended Dharavi family of Kaala than the politician who is out to get them. Rajini is not just teleported from the eighties and the nineties, the film itself is stuck in that era. The story, the treatment, and the characterization all look and feel dated. The occasional use of cell phones is perhaps the only sign that the film is based in the present times.
There are two ways of watching a Rajinikanth’s film. If you are an unbiased filmgoer, then the ugly cinematic warts are clearly visible. Perception changes if you are a fan. Then it is not just a film, it is a festival. Where it gets hard to follow the dialogues in the din of cheers and whistles. Where just the image of Thalaivar on screen sends the faithful in raptures. Where the tempo is built up even before HE delivers his lines sending the audience into even more raptures. It is almost as if his dialogues have their own “entry”. Even in this age of realistic cinema, Rajini fights dozens of bad guys alone and his one punch sends them flying in air in slow motion every time. For the un-besotted, Kaala is a below average film. But who can argue with those with Rajini tinted glasses for whom the film may be the best thing to have happened in years? To each his own.