Banners: Wunderbar Films, Lyca Productions
Director: Pa Ranjith
Cast: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Samuthirakani, Easwari Rao, Huma Qureshi, Manikandan, Anjali Patil, Pankaj Tripathi, Sayaji Shinde, Dileepan, Sampath Raj, Aravind Aakash
Writers: Pa Ranjith, Aadhavan Dheetchanya, K Magizhan (dialogues)
Music: Santhosh Narayanan
Pa Ranjith made his directorial debut in 2012 with Attakathi. Two films and four years later, he was helming Kabali, starring superstar Rajinikanth. Coming on the back of a successful Madras, there were a lot of expectations from Kabali. The movie was touted as the return of Rajini to his mass image. The film may have succeeded to some extent, but Kabali fell short of becoming a memorable Thalaivar film.
But when Ranjith and Rajinikanth decided to team up once again, this time under the banner of Dhanush’s Wunderbar Films, expectations and the buzz around the film grew multifold. Kaala became one of the most anticipated films of Tamil cinema.
After a long wait, Kaala finally hit the screens. But fans thronging cinemas to watch a true-blue Rajinikanth movie may be in for some disappointment because this movie is more a Ranjith movie than a Rajinikanth film.
The story is set in the slums of Dharavi, in Mumbai, and Karikaalan aka Kaala is the uncrowned king of the people living there. With the help of his son Selvam and his close friend Vaaliyappan, Kaala takes care of the people of Dharavi while protecting the coveted neighbourhood from greedy builders and politicians. Opposed to his violent methods is his youngest son Lenin, who believes that revolution can take place only through protests and demonstrations. But in a world where actions speak louder than words, Selvam and Kaala always manage to get things done, while Lenin and his methods fail.
Things in the Dharavi slums take a serious turn when Hari Dev Abhyankar sets his sights on the land. His ‘Pure Mumbai’ campaign threatens to dislocate the residents. First, he tries to take over the place using his pawn Vishnu, but he is defeated in the MLA elections.
Amidst all this, enters Zareena, Kaala’s ex-flame, who is now working with an international NGO. She wants to rehabilitate the people of Dharavi and the neighbourhood. Her plans look good on paper but Kaala is not too impressed with the ideas. It is soon discovered that Zareena is being used by Hari Dada to get control of Dharavi. When she discovers the true intentions of all those involved, it is too late and Kaala has lost more than what he had bargained for.
Hari Dada, confident that he has Kaala cornered, tries one last attempt to get his way, but Kaala remains undefeated. The entire manpower of Dharavi goes on strike, thus bringing the city to a standstill. Hari Dada uses all his muscle power to eliminate Kaala. He seems to have succeeded but then Kaala is not just a man, he is a movement.
Kaala brings forth the Ranjith we saw and loved in Madras. The film is well-written and when compared to Kabali, there are a lot more emotional elements in play in the narrative. Whether deliberate or not, Ranjith manages to bring forth Kaala, the character, rather than Rajinikanth the superstar in this film. There is a clever use of symbolism, be it the black vs white in the outfits of Kaala and Hari Dada, some important scenes shot against the backdrop of a Buddha Vihar or the narration of Rama killing Ravana juxtaposed with Hari Dada’s men attacking Kaala and his flock.
The dialogue is fiery and filled with political connotation, and pro-urban poor rights. Full marks to Murali G for some amazing camera work. The action scenes, especially the flyover fight just before the interval and the climax are a treat to watch. Full credit to T Ramalingam for the production design. Dharavi has been created to the T, be it the hutments, the alleys or the dhobi ghat. Santhosh Narayanan’s music is a bit lacklustre, but he more than makes up for it with an energetic and powerful background score. Editing by Sreekar Prasad is slick, but at 166 minutes, it is a very long film. The second half gets a little tedious especially since it lacks the vibrancy of the first half.
Performance-wise, what can you say about Rajinikanth? His presence on the screen is as magnetic as ever. His every move, his every smile, his every line packs a punch. What is heartening is we get to see not just the fiery side of Kaala, but also a subtle and romantic side of the character. Unlike his recent films, where the romance may seem little unbecoming for his age, in Kaala, Rajinikanth’s scenes with his on-screen wife Selvi and his ex-flame Zareena are sweet and a good diversion from the high-octane scenes in the rest of the narrative.
Nana Patekar as the formidable Hari Dada is the perfect antagonist to Rajinikanth’s Kaala. His demeanour is cool and calculating. For a seasoned actor like him, language is never a hindrance. Yes, Tamil audiences may not understand his Tamil very clearly, but his transition from Tamil to Hindi is done with ease and is convincing. The confrontation scenes between him and Rajinikanth are wonderful to watch.
Easwari Rao as Selvi is to the point. Her loud and talkative personality contrasts beautifully with the subtle Zareena played by Huma Qureshi. In the scenes that both actresses share with Rajinikanth, they hold their own. Manikandan as Lenin and Dileepan as Selvam play their parts well. Samuthirakani as Vaaliyappan is a treat to watch. A special mention of Anjali Patil, who plays Charumathi aka Puyal. She is Manikandan’s girlfriend and a firebrand activist. The ease with which she switches from Tamil to Marathi to Hindi, brings out the true flavour of a Dharavi resident. The rest of the cast, which includes names like Pankaj Tripathi and Sayaji Shinde, have played their parts well.