KAALA (2018)

Critic - No.154

 Pa. Ranjith
Casts: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi, Eswari Rao, Samuthirakani, Anjali Patil, Dileepan, Manikanden
Language: Tamil
Genre: Action / Drama
Music: Santosh Narayanan

‘Kaala’ (Rajinikanth) who is celebrated as the King of Dharavi, fights for keeping the land safe from mighty politician and the land mafia, Hari Dhadha (Nana Patekar).

Even though ‘Kabali (2016)’ emerged as a blockbuster in the box office, both cinema fans and Rajini fans were mildly disappointed by the dullness and subtlety that worked against the film. The film was seen as an experimental film by Ranjith who attempted to force in a few commercialism that the story didn’t warrant. No one can deny the film’s genuine content but the execution left us half hearted.

Whereas, ‘Kaala’ is different. Right from the marketing campaigns, the film looked and felt more local, raw and at the same time with Ranjith’s similar political ideology on land ownership that echoes through his short filmography. Undeniably, Superstar Rajini looks more comfortable and loosed up in this arena than he was in Kabali. As what any Rajini fan wants, the film’s premise is about the showdown between Kaala, King of Dharavi and land mafia Hari Dhadha who wants to sweep the slums to build high rise building – a typical tailor made mass movie synopsis. However, Ranjith uses this premise to inject his political voice in such a big platform hoping to spark a larger discussion in National stand.

Ranjth uses more of 90s style of Rajini film action triggers and twists it with an unexpected scene conclusion. During most of the fights, he teases us with a huge set up and drifts it to a more realistic tone which I won’t harp too much on because he completely immerses us into the dynamics of the real world. In fact, we see Rajini playing with his grandchildren, joking like a common man and even getting hit by his enemies at instances. The make up is natural and simple yet he looks majestic. 

The Rajinisms are there but in a more muted tone that coincides to the actor’s age and status of his career. I would rather watch his older films for grand fights and punch dialogues. Here, Ranjith attempts to make a commercial film for the growing audiences who appreciate entertainment differently and sensibly, in short, the growing commercial cinema audience. In my opinion, this kind of treatment makes us closer to Rajini than recent films that we see him fly in climax fights. 

In Kabali, Rajini proved that he is a natural performer but due to the character’s thin layer, we couldn’t resonate much as we relate to Kaala’s character. Rajini’s versatility is on top form in the film as he carries the film as an intense performer and a charismatic entertainer. He balances both remarkably well. The symbolism in the film is interesting not only through the colours but also with the use of Ramayana as a juxtaposition to the finale fight. But here, Ranjith gives it a twist by showing Raman as the evil and Ravana as the hero. The final idea that people should believe in a movement than a hero is portrayed creatively with a climax that is as experimental as Kabali. However, in Kaala it fits better. 

It was certainly not a marketing stunt when Rajini declared Nana Patekar as one his toughest villain during the audio launch. The Bollywood veteran sizzles whenever he is on screen. He underplays most of the time but his menacing posture and delivery is simply a joy to watch. This is the kind of chemistry that any Rajini fan would celebrate. Despite being a Rajini film, the supporting actors are given a large space to imprint their imprint their presence in our hearts. Eswari Rao, Manikanden, Dileepan, Samuthirakani and Anjali Patil are some of the best of the lot. Huma Quereshi looks perfect for the role but leaves us with less impact than intended and seemed more of a hangover from Kabali.

Despite running for almost three hours, Kaala doesn’t have any lags at all, thanks to the legendary editor Sreekar Prasad’s fine sequencing. Murali’s raw cinematography is noteworthy and elevates the reality factor that Ranjith has rooted to deliver. The pre-interval rain fight and climax sequence are some of his traces of brilliance. Santosh Narayanan’s background score is unforgettable, arresting and empowering. The songs are beautifully weaved in the film that perfectly highlights the emotional graph of the narration. The villain theme and ‘Katravai Patravai’ are sure to ring in your ears after your leave the cinema halls.

On the flip side, Kaala do touch the preachy side at times that might annoy some. Especially in the second half, the intended message is flashed across symbolically at some points and to your face at most. The challenges between Nana Patekar and Rajini are exciting but the tricks appointed by the the former often are unimaginative with just mere violence each time. After a while, it becomes predictable as well. But all of these shortcomings are compensated by a strong climax that makes us think about the slums in Dharavi and respect the social responsibility of such a strong film maker.

Gritty, engaging and politically relevant, ‘Kaala’ is a well-balanced commercial film helmed by Ranjith that positively redefines ‘Rajinism’ for the taste of ever evolving cinema audience.



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