Most of us would have seen the famous The Invisible Gorilla video; it startlingly exposes the extent of influence of selective attention in our thought process. Simply put, when you keep looking for something keenly, you end up missing many other things, some of them significant too. So when a long-time Rajni fan enters the theatre he restlessly keeps looking for - style, punch dialog, trademark comedy, high voltage fights, etc., in short, the 5-songs 5-fights template of Rajni. And rightly so, as these are the very things that have defined the Super Star. But in the process, Kabali, a don's story told from the heart, is likely to be missed. (Has been missed). As I write this, in spite of my best attempts to insulate myself from the instant reviews across social media and smart phones, it is clear more and more seats are remaining vacant across the halls in Tamil Nadu and the erstwhile-AP running Kabali. It is unfortunate. (Blame also lies in the trailer that focused only on the action-part, with a special stress on Neruppu da!).
The movie has one of the best performances of Rajni in the recent times. And as a film, Kabali is a well-packaged drama that has a Tamil leader as the central character. The movie opens with a high level meeting of Malaysian cops about release of the Tamil don (leader) Kabali who had completed a 25-year sentence. Then the famously leaked release scene. Rajni sparkles as the old don, who blooms again on getting united with his family, and who dashingly reclaims his space from a menacing Chinese don. The first half is beautifully written and performed. The very first action block that ends with Rajni freeing a multi-coloured parrot from one of the cages in a pet shop - is just the dictionary meaning of style. Also the next one, where in a ship-breaking yard, Kabali crushes a baddie with his black Merc. Classic instance of star power and style. Such seeming subtle stunts, as against the usual 1 Vs 100 Rajni-fights like in Sivaji (2007), purely bank on the star's screen presence - and they have in deed delivered. Soon after the release, and the following stunt, Kabali comes to his house. This is a a well-written, highly emotional sequence, where the don is seen missing his wife terribly. Rajni has pulled it off with a highly matured performance. You feel his pain.
Intermittently, the Chinese gangster Tony Lee (Winston Chao) appears. Perhaps, this character is the weakest link in the movie. More than a dreaded evil, Tony looks like a cross between a caricature and cartoon. Tony deserved more depth, better style, and definitely more brain. Veera (Kishore), a traitor-Tamil, is Tony's sidekick. Veera too deserved better dialogues, and more dignity. Nasser as Tamilnesan does justice to his limited footage in the flashback. Yes, the flashback sequence is going to be the most disappointing scenes for the fans, who were eagerly, and obviously looking for a Baasha-like (1995) experience. It is not going to happen anymore. Dot. But if you look at it, the flashback scenes are intelligently presented in the form of Kabali's answers to his students' queries. Perhaps, the makers were sure that it would be tough for us to endure the youth-look Rajni for 20 minutes at a stretch. (They were right). Here again, Rajni sparkles with exactly the right level of performance. The issues of Tamil labourers in Malaysia serves as the backdrop for the episode, in which a small-time leader transforms into a full-fledged don. Now comes the retrofitted ideology of the director, Pa.Ranjith. In his earlier outing, Madras (2014), it was about the wall and who controlled it that symbolised social power; now it is a western attire. Nothing is left to imagination. Out of the blue, Kabali talks about why Gandhi shed his Western attire, and why Ambedkar was seen in suit and a tie.
In the middle of an action sequence where dozens of bullets keep flying in all directions, Kabali gets to know his daughter was alive, and that she was right there with him. Here again, the Super Star excels as an actor. You got to give it to him. Dhansika (as Yogi) as the daughter has carried out her task well. More emotionally loaded is the sequence wherein Kabali goes in search of his wife, finally lands up in Auroville and spends a night in the vicinity where presumably his wife was living right then. The entire block has been made from the heart, and it is just not possible to ignore Rajni's performance here. Radhika Apte (as Kumudhavalli) bowls us over with her acting. Very rarely, we have come across such genuinely emotional rides in a Rajni movie. Something last seen in Thalapathy (1991) perhaps, where Surya goes to see his mother.
The second half has good action, and for the old Rajni fans there is a lot in store in the climax sequence. (Lot of bullets, blood, etc. in the time-tested 1 Vs. 100 format). Strictly not for the kids and pregnant women! While the first half is about the old don finding his beliefs and roots, the second half is about his comeback and ascension with style. A few days back, this was my FB post:
"I think it is going to be Option (4) for Kabali. *** Endings for a don movie: (1) - The don gets killed - Nayagan, Thalapahty. (2) -The don forgives the villain and continues with his normal way of life - Baasha. (3)- The don fades into oblivion, and dies as a loner - The Godfather III. (4)- The don dies a natural, near-happy death - The Godfather. "
The end lies somewhere in between. It appears so.
Rajni has carried the movie on his shoulders with inimitable elan. But not in his usual form, but in a new, welcome avatar. Here is where the problem lies, possibly. But this is the only way forward for the Star. Next may be a family drama, or a powerful role for 30-40 minutes in movie with someone else as the hero. But from the script perspective, the main issue lies with what looks like a forced insertion of caste colours in the story. What was projected as a fight for Tamil labourers right to begin with, is all of a sudden revealed as a clash between the genes, groups and castes within the Tamils. And this is kind of awkward for the story, though immensely relevant for the society. Given this point of view, it is easy to appreciate why our man Tony was made to behave like a long-faced fool. Anthony (in Baasha) looked deadly, even without uttering a single word; and that amplified the strength of the hero, the Super Star. But here, Tony behaves like our next-door Tommy in spite of his indiscriminate killings and infatuation with bullets.
Rajni has tried to adapt himself to the changing times by going with a young director, much like I desired. A bold but inevitable move. Hats off! But if there is one man whom team Kabali has to thank next to the Super Star, it is definitely Santosh Narayanan, the music director. The songs are at the top of the all charts. The back ground score is melodious, mysterious, peppy, dazzling, and electrifying - all rolled into one. Music, in fact, is the soul of the movie.
Kabali will be remembered as one of the landmark movies of the Super Star.
(I hope I have not missed any gorilla).