Superstar Rajinikanth is back.
But, this time, the boss has aged immensely, and it’s glaringly obvious in Kabali, which opened worldwide on July 22.
Still, Rajini’s diehard fans will not be dampened as his electrifying screen presence continues to thrill, especially in the first few scenes.
When the camera focuses on his shoes, the audience scream; it follows him from behind, they yell; and finally, when his full-blown face appears, they go wild.
When he utters his only Bahasa Malaysia word, biarkan, the audience goes into a frenzy.
Such is Rajini-mania as noted at the Malaysian premiere held at the Federal Cinema in Kuala Lumpur on July 21. No amount of massive downpour, lightning or traffic jams could diminish their enthusiasm.
Filmed mostly in Malacca, Carey Island in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur last year, the highly anticipated gangster-flick had fans waiting with bated breath since the teaser was first released.
The plot revolves around the plight of the Indian community, specifically Tamilians, who were sent by the British to Malaysia to work as labourers. Many become drug traffickers and gangsters working for the Chinese mafia.
Protagonist Kabaleeshwaran (Rajinikanth) and his family land on our shores. Noting the unfair treatment of his people, Kabali fights for equal rights and becomes a gang member of 00, eventually succeeding as leader when his sifu is killed.
Confrontation with other gangs are rife, especially with Gang 43, led by drug lord Tony Woo (Winston Chao), who, while deserves a pat on the back for trying to speak Tamil, mutilated the language with his terrible pronunciation.
As in the mob world, Kabali’s family gets entangled, carnage ensues and he is imprisoned. After 25 years, the man is let out and continues where he had left off. His internal fire burns and he will stop at nothing…neruppu da (fire blazing fiercely).
Being a gang leader and to help his people, Kabali also establishes the Free Life Foundation, a school for dropouts, mostly comprising children of gang members.
There are very brief moments of showing how Tamilians were ill-treated; instead the plot focuses on the ruthlessness of the gangs. Whack, burn, shoot, kill…bloodshed – that seems to be the theme of the movie. Gangsterism at its core. The music score amplifies this.
Except for the gripping first 10 minutes, the narration is rather draggy until Kabali goes in search of his wife Kumuthavalli (Radhika Apte).
Again, we’re given so many run arounds that you wonder if he is ever going to find her. Their meeting is poignant and brings out the tenderness of the characters.
As Kabali’s wife, Kumuthavalli’s character is rather cold although her face radiates warmth. There is a stark disconnect in the relationship between husband and wife but the characters are pieced together better when Kabali is discharged from prison.
Datuk Rosyam Nor plays Woo’s sidekick and, though a minor role, was significant enough as he appears in many scenes.
Rajini’s superstar quality is still there – the crisp dialogue, the flick of the fingers (not cigarettes), his charisma, etc, but his gait suffers in the movie and his pace is considerably slow. It’s almost as if Rajini is struggling to walk. Often times, he is seated while talking.
However, the cinematography is brilliant as are the scenes around the country (no, I’m not being biased!).
The final moments atop a building with the Twin Towers in the background is captured magnificently. We see Rajini in his element in the fight scenes but alas, his performance lacks oomph compared to his other movies.
While not Rajini’s best movie and ranging on the borderline of average, Kabali is still an entertaining watch.
Director: Pa Ranjith
Cast: Rajinikanth, Rosyam Nor, Radhika Apte, Dhansika, Winston Chao, Dinesh Ravi, Kalaiyarasan, John Vijay