Art & Culture

Superstar Rajinikanth's Kabali left me disappointed

TS Sudhir
TS SudhirJul 22, 2016 | 19:43

Superstar Rajinikanth's Kabali left me disappointed

The irony of the man undoing what he did 38 years ago. Wonder if Kalaipuli S Thanu, the producer of Kabali realises that.

In 1978, Thanu, then a distributor, christened Rajinikanth as "Superstar". The occasion was Rajini's first movie in a leading role in Bairavi and the tag has stuck on to the actor ever since.

In the fourth decade of their friendship, Thanu finally got to produce his first movie with Rajinikanth, and what does he do?


He presents Rajini without any of the embellishments that made him a superstar.

This is not to say Rajinikanth should not have stepped out of his comfort zone.

Most certainly yes, especially after the lifeless Kochadaiiyan and drag of a Lingaa in 2014, that made you ask "Does Rajini need to do this, paavum (poor thing)?"

As an ageing gangster in Kabali, Rajini got the look right. Stylish, with panache. I would, in fact, say droolworthy.

Northies, don't frown, you need to be a Rajini bhakt to understand that adulation.

The problem was with the storytelling which dragged.

It let the asking rate climb up, with the editor being stingy with the scissors, even while its best bat was not allowed to play his natural game, with the flair that made him "Superstar Rajinikanth".

Did Kabali challenge Rajini, the actor?

I am afraid not.

Now don't say the man cannot act because then I will send you DVDs of Thalapathi and all his K Balachander films.

When Ranjith was pencilled in to direct Rajini, everyone thought this is a killer combo, with extra toppings.

In his earlier two films, Ranjith had revelled in the realistic touch. Realism would meet flamboyance in Kabali, went the expectation.


Kabali is a gangster film, set in Malaysia where Rajini is the good "rowdy", only because he does not sell drugs and runs a rehab centre for drug addicts.

Otherwise, he is as ruthless as his rivals in spilling blood. It is a you-shoot-me, I-shoot-you movie, with both sides wanting to control the country.

As an ageing gangster in Kabali, Rajini got the look right.

Rajini, having spent 25 lonely years inside prison, during which we are told there have been 13 attacks on his life, is pensive, with his eyes doing most of the talking in the initial part of the movie.

The emotional track that includes his search for what he lost in the past, including his wife, should therefore have been the highlight of the film, where Rajinikanth could have shown off his K Balachander alumni tag.

But if an emotional scene where Kabali meets his wife, who he had thought was no more, after 25 years, does not make my eyes moist, what "Ranjith touch" are we talking about?

A Mani Ratnam would have got the theatre reaching out for their tissues. Okay, let us not get Mani involved here.

Just rewind to Rajini's own Mannan and the Amma song in that movie. You get the point, don't you?


There is no issue in Ranjith choosing story over the star and making Rajinikanth just a cog in the wheel of the script. After all, script is king.

But unfortunately, Ranjith killed the star for the actor in Rajini, without being able to fully exploit the powerhouse of talent that Rajini is.

In the bargain, Rajini has fallen between two stools.

Kabali is neither a Padayappa nor a Thalapathi.

How on earth can you have a Rajini film and not write out-of-this-world dialogues for him?

What is the point if Rajini has no punchlines and none of the "chumma adhirithille" (doesn't it shake you up) naughtiness that have made the actor such a delight on screen.

The audience has no issues with Ranjith slowing down Rajini's walk, but why didn't he give his tongue that razor's edge?

No surprise then that the Tamil audience at the theatre I watched, fell silent after whistling, dancing for the first 15 minutes, during which Rajini is introduced, delivers his "Kabali da" punch dialogue.

What a disappointment, that the "tirimbi vanduten nu sollu" (tell them I have returned) line is pretty much the only killer bunch of dialogue in the film.

Ranjith forgot a Rajini film is an experience, it is about the atmosphere.

If people queue up at 1am to watch a Rajini release, it is because they love his attitude. But while Rajinikanth is an emotion, Kabali was just a film.

In one word, bland.

It was as if Rajinikanth was served cold, sans salt and spices.

I wonder if Ranjith could have done better by setting the movie in Tamil Nadu instead of Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur made for great locales, especially the climax scene but the movie lost the pace when it went into flashback.

Too many characters popping up, none of them fleshed out made the Malaysian track lack resonance.

The flashback scenes detailing the problems of the migrant workers, had neither emotional connect nor substance.

But it is not as if the film did not have positives.

Like in many of Rajini movies, the importance of the family is highlighted, and both Radhika Apte and Dhansika played their limited parts well. Among the villains, Kishore stood out.

The references to caste are aplenty and make you wonder if Ranjith had Tamil Nadu's current social churning, where honour killings hit the headlines often, in mind while writing them.

In the scene where Rajinikanth is introduced, he is seen reading a book about Dalit oppression titled My Father Baliah by YB Satyanarayana.

He refers to his dark complexion as his asset, something that his wife fell for.

Given the Dalit versus backward class rivalry in Tamil Nadu, it will be interesting to see how the Gounders, Vanniyars and Thevars react to the hero, whose heart clearly beats for the Dalit cause.

After all the high-decibel hype around the movie, I stepped out feeling shortchanged.

Surprisingly, many in the theatre too had long faces. I heard the word "disappointing" most number of times.

Where does Rajinikanth go from here?

One can only wish after winding up Shankar's next, he teams up with a Mani Ratnam or a Gautam Menon. He owes it to his fans, and more importantly, to his craft.

Till then "Maghizchi" (happiness) will wait.

Last updated: July 24, 2016 | 12:21
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