Darbar is a film that works at all levels - right from music to action blocks to costumes, et al. But the only trouble with the film is that it has come with a delay of some 4-5 years. There was a big question mark in the Superstar's career after Linga (2014). Ideally, Darbar should have been released around that time - just to prove that the Rajni magic was still as strong and as addictive as ever. But now, as a Rajni film coming up immediately after the well written and beautifully crafted Petta (2019), Darbar is something that even Rajni could have avoided. Petta had already achieved what Darbar purportedly attempted - to celebrate the ageless Star. And it had achieved that with a great panache, and more importantly in tune with the changing times.
Aditya Arunachalam, played by Rajnikanth is the COP, Mumbai. He gets transferred from Delhi to Mumbai by someone dressed in a bandhgala suit sitting in a huge well furnished hall. May be he is some sort of an All India Commanding Officer. Well, here we stop and tune ourselves as if we have come for a mass Rajni film like a Rajathi Raja or a Sivaji. Fair enough. If I am to get something extra by sticking to the usual route of suppresing our logical sense while watching a Rajni film, I am more than willing to do that. Naturally, because that is what we have been doing over the decades. But, the key phrase here is - 'something extra'.
The first half of the film is pretty good. It has been written well, and it succeeds in checking all the critical Rajnism boxes - style, stunts and comedy. The chemistry between Aditya and his daughter Valli (Nivetha Thomas) has worked out very well on screen. In fact, the father-daughter relation holds the film throughout. Yogi Babu as the COP's PA has supported Rajnikanth neatly with his funny lines and antics. Nayanthara (Lily) as the hero's love interest has justified her role, which demands only a limited range of emotions. It is a cake walk for her. May be she is doing such a role for the zillionth time. But luckily, all of us are spared a full fledged 'duet' song. And the age gap factor of Aditya-Lily too is handled in a nuanced way. Hats off!
So far, so good. On the story front, the first half revolves around certain drug-related crimes ultimately leading to a petty criminal doing 'proxy' time in prison, in place of the real master mind. Aditya rattles the plan with a lot of brain work. The script is gripping around this sequence. By the interval the COP is extraordinary. Rajni at his near best.
In the second half, the movie takes off well but just when you are all set to see the heights the script is going to take you, it starts meandering and worse - falls back to the very old formulaic things. The very stuff that the stars are trying to put behind them. It is like beyond a point the team decides - Relax baby! It is the auto pilot time! It is a rehash of many things old and beaten. The music too sounded pedestrian and at many places it was a rehash of Thenisai Thendarl Deva's tunes. (His name finds a place in the initial 'Thanks'.) Anirudh's golden touch is by and large missing.
But if there is one thing (basically there is only one thing) in the film that stands out - it is Rajni's effort. He is just amazing, defying age with elan. Believe me! Be it the one liners, slo-mo style walks, dance, humour and above all the fight sequences - the Superstar has delivered superbly. The climax stunt will be talked for many months to come. There is not a single place where the actor has let his guard down, or just tried to 'manage' his performance. It is tough not to envy him. It is tougher to find a comparable star anywhere around the world. But it is also a tragic truth that even the best of the stars cannot entirely salvage a script that cries for more attention.