Nobody has had a dream run quite like Rajnikanth. He is seemingly untouched by all that actors fear. He is not insecure, doesn’t try to hide his age, and doesn’t hit the gym with a vengeance. Add to that he routinely appears in public sans makeup. Yet fans flock to his movies as if it was 1978 once again, the year he earned the sobriquet “Superstar”. In this regard, Rajnikanth is blessed. The other side of his success is that Rajni is trapped in his stardom. Once a producer has signed Rajni, he tries to repeat the same formula over and over again. Thanks to Rajni’s fans, these films are successful, but are the films providing Rajni the kind of opportunities he should be getting? The answer, unfortunately, is no and Kabali is a prime example. Director PA Ranjith who has proved his caliber with films like Madras, can’t resist the tried and tested formula – the same mannerisms, the similar dialogues that thrilled his fans almost 4 decades back.
Kabaleeshwaran aka Kabali (Rajnikanth) is a worker on a Malaysian plantation who fights for equal rights and wages for his fellow Tamils when compared to the Chinese workers. Soon, he takes over as their leader. His transition to leadership also necessitates change in his wardrobe. Here on, Rajnikanth is shown wearing three-piece suits throughout. There are many rivals to Kabali’s rise to power and they try to eliminate him. After an unexpected gang war, Kabali is convicted on false charges and goes to jail for 25 years while his wife Kumudhavalli (Radhika Apte) is lost, perhaps killed. Kabali returns a free man after completing his sentence. He searches for his wife and is out for revenge. The main antagonist is a man called Tony Lee (Winston Chao). Kabali’s revenge shapes the rest of the film.
Rajnikanth, even in his mid-sixties still has the magic. It is he who carries the film on his shoulders from the beginning to the end. Radhika Apte, though much younger to him, is able to convincingly exude a strong chemistry between the couple. The same can’t be said about other actors. Tony Lee is cartoonish. To Ranjith’s credit, he has tried to weave in elements of realism. Kabali is seen to break down, or get beaten once in a while, though not for too long. The script is the problem here. A simple story has been stretched to two and half hours, so many a time the film just drags along.
To Rajni’s many fans, all these shortcomings don’t matter. They go to the movies for their Thalaiva, anything else be damned. Would it hurt to write a screenplay befitting Rajni the actor? A story where he is not a super hero but just a normal guy? Ranjith has left the film open-ended, perhaps for a sequel. If he does make one, hopefully he will make the kind of film he is known for. Rajni’s fans will watch regardless.
Rating : 2/5
Starring: Rajinikanth, Winston Chao, Radhika Apte, Dhansika
Director: Pa. Ranjith