Glitters sans the glamour 

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 09 Jun 2018 11:37:24



By Farina Salim Quraishi,

Kaala, PA Ranjith’s saga about people’s power, is a welcome departure from the usual drama surrounding Rajini movies. Devoid of tricks and thrills that have made Rajinikanth a darling of the masses, Kaala is an ode to ‘The Thalaivaa’ as a people’s man with the celebration of Rajini as the ‘Super Cinestar’ coming in a poor second. Decidedly quieter and lacking the razmataz of a Rajinikanth starrer, Kaala, much like his last outing in Kabaali, has Rajinikanth playing a mere mortal, but one who heeds and bleeds for his people. With more than a sustained focus on Karikaalan as a saviour for masses, Kaala is more than a gentle reminder of Rajinikanth’s political ambitions and his brand of spiritual politics.

Set in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai, Kaala begins with an interesting introduction to the origin of land and how it has been the bone of contention since the start of time. The good old slums of Dharavi -- the largest slum in the world - is also engaged in a ‘war’- this time for its existence.  As part of Clean India, Pure India Campaign, political heavyweight Haridada Abhyankar (Nana Patekar) wants to ‘clean up’ Dharavi. He wants to replace the slums with skyscrapers, dingy lanes with wide roads and potholes with a sprawling golf course to fulfil his ‘mission’ of empowerment, of himself of course! Standing in his way is Karikaalan aka Kaala (Rajinikanth), a solid son of the soil, who lives and breathes for roots and rights. A migrant from down South, Kaala is the Demi-God of Dharavi who only lives for the well-being of his people.

Hari Dada, chasing power above all, will stop at nothing to fulfil his open-eyed dream and the rising body count hardly proves a deterrent for him. With the poor pushed against the wall, Kaala has no option but to fight back!  For a film showing the dark side of development and anguish of the urban poor, Kaala uses a very cut and dry approach and wears its intent on its sleeve. The film’s focus is on making its protagonist Kaala a larger-than-life messiah - a champion of those too weak to fight for themselves and one who bows to none, not even the law - and in that aspect it succeeds wildly, never mind the fact that Kaala has feet of clay.

The films puts Kaala on a righteous pedestal, with everything around him painted either black or white. Using and abusing the age-old cliches, the story and plot (which are unoriginal and predictable) are not the driving force of the film but Kaala himself and his benevolence. So we have umpteen sequences wherein Kaala talks about the right to live with dignity, brotherhood, equality, justice along with prolonged monologues about roots, tradition and rituals being the basis of life! Rajinikanth is serious about politics and we get it!

It’s difficult to believe that the setting of Kaala is Mumbai and Dharavi, in particular, given the abundance of Southern influences. The men in lungis and dhotis and women draped in traditional sarees outnumber if not out-weigh the general populace, giving Dharavi more of a Chennai feel than the heart of Mumbai (a sea of placards in Tamil don’t exactly help). Sure there is some Mumbai-style snazzy rapping, cool hip-hop dancing stray lines in Marathi and also Ganesh Visarjan, but the overwhelming Southern feel is hard to shake off, especially when the entire colony turns green for Pongal!

Much like the first collaboration of the acclaimed director with Rajini - Kabaali - Kaala also bears Ranjith’s low-key stamp all through with only flashes of old Rajini magic setting the screen on fire. The antics are in place all right but are used rather judiciously. Rajinikanth has mellowed with age and it is showing. He plays his age realistically (for the most part) and is top notch as the gangster who has lost his rage but not his edge. Though his action scenes seem laboured, Rajini more than makes up for the energy deficit with his blinding charisma.

Huma Qureshi as Zarina, Kaala’s old flame, has a substantial role but fails to leave a lasting impact. Conveying little of the complicated role, Huma is stilted and too subdued and looks miscast. In contrast, the feisty, Easwari Rao as Kaala's wife Selvi is one fiery performer. Nana Patekar makes for a formidable adversary. A far cry for the usual all-black villains, Nana Patekar as the sedate, scholarly foe brings a discomforting malevolence to the role. Check out the sequences wherein he quotes a shloka about life and the futility of materialistic pursuits! Worded with chilling perfection, the words reverberate long after they have been drawled out. Moreover, the confrontational sequences between Rajini and Nana are fabulous and a veritable delight to watch!

With too many somber sequences and too few bombastic antics, Kaala will surely come as a disappointment to those looking for the killer moves. However, those in favour of a greying but realistic Rajini will definitely root for this one.

The Hitavada Rating: OO 1/2