Cast: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi, Eswari Rao, Anjali Patil, Samuthirakani, Aravind Akash, Sayaji Shinde, Pankaj Tripathi
Director: Pa Ranjith
Rating: * * ½
The underworld Don inspired story has rarely caught the fancy of mainstream audiences – with a precious few exceptions like ‘Nayakan’, so this new multilingual release version, with superstar Rajinikanth, literally donning the mantle, in a quasi-contemporary setting isn’t likely to set the cash registers ringing across regional boundaries. There’s little in the form of surprises here – other than a few twists and turns that hardly matter enough to make the experience any different.
Pa Ranjith may deny his inspiration was obviously S Thiraviam Nadar’s life – the man credited with single-handedly standing up to the Shiv Sena when it flexed its muscle against the south Indians in the Late 60’s. Most of Nadar’s milestones are recorded in the narrative – albeit as a modern day Messiah’s overtures. Ranjith, in fact, uses distinct shades of white to mask Kaala in redeeming colours.
There’s no hiding the fact that this film is obviously based on the life of a man who left Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu to become an icon of sorts for those who fled the starvation horrors of their hometown in the late 50’s. The contemporary setting doesn’t quite ring true though.
Kaala – short for Karikaalan (Rajinikanth) is the king of Dharavi and he has his priorities all charted out – He has to put an end to Hari Dada’s (Nana Patekar) oppression so obviously there’s little time for love and romance with Zareena (Huma Qureshi). The opening, animated introduction sets the tone for what is to follow. The stage here is literally being levelled, to anoint Rajinikanth – actor turned freshly minted Politician, as the new saviour on the horizon. Tamil migrants make their home in Dharavi and are basically the backbone of the city they now adopt as home. But evil forces (builder-politician nexus) want to deny them the rights to the land they literally built up from the mosquito-infested swamps they appropriated, and an intense struggle ensues. When Hari Dada decimates Kaala’s loved ones in an act of revenge, ‘Kaala’ counters it by shutting Mumbai down with the help of his labour heavy Tamil clansmen.
The use of swords in the clashes seem rather outdated, basically harkening back to the era long past. Adding headline-grabbing communal incidences that triggered riots, as part of the byplay here doesn’t lend the film any topicality either. The reimagined Dharavi set isn’t grounded in realism and ace cinematographer Murali’s camerawork can do little to make it look real. Images of Dharavi as it was in the past decades show up as fleeting references. The distinctive use of colour to signify good and evil makes the plotting veer towards the implausible. The contrived ‘Messiah of the Masses’ slant doesn’t evoke enough emotion to keep the viewer engrossed. Pa Ranjith’s narrative style is a little too overlaid to be appreciated universally.
The film is formulaic, the typical Rajinikanth style flourishes stare you in the face and VFX work, though spiffy, isn’t as seamless as we have come to expect. Rajinikanth is his usual loud and fictitiously magnanimous self- playing to the gallery in the trademark fashion that has earned him his legendary fan following. Ranjith’s attempt to give Rajinikanth overwhelming focus in the scenes from the past and the present only makes believability doubtful.
He looks visibly aged and even technology and smart editing by Sreekar Prasad fail to aid him in that deceit. Nana Patekar as the antagonist smartly ups the ante to a rather befitting loud metric. Despite the presence of Easwari Rao and Huma Qureshi (who do well to hold their own in sketchy roles) it’s Anjali Patil who steals the show as Puyal, girlfriend to one of Kaala’s sons. This film has been created mainly to keep the fallacy about Rajinikanth’s invincibility at the Box Office alive, but it’s hardly likely to do the deed with any great affect!