Kabali is one of the most awaited Tamil films of the year, and rightfully so, as it stars Kollywood’s very own evergreen superstar Rajinikanth. While the one-minute teaser for the film promises slick action interwoven with quintessential Rajini style and intriguing flashbacks, the film does not quite live up to the high expectations set by the teaser.
The basic premise of the movie revolves around a rivalry between two gangs in Malaysia: Gang 00, headed by Kabaleeswaran aka Kabali (Rajinikanth) and Gang 43 led by Tony Lee (Winston Chao) and his associates. Also entangled in the melee, among others, are Amir (John Vijay), Kumudhavalli (Radhika Apte), and Yogi (Dhansika).
Kabali has all the elements of a Rajinikanth movie-watching experience: style, sunglasses, and sick dialogues. From Kabaleeswaran’s impeccable dressing sense to his power-packed punches, the film flaunts all that comes with the star value and brand name of Rajinikanth. Unfortunately, there is not much else in this film.
Praveen K.L.’s editing is choppy, mismatched, and confusing, as some scenes seem awkwardly placed beside one another. Pa. Ranjith attempts to convey a narrative depicting the struggles of Tamilians in Malaysia but his underlying message and motivation are clouded by inconsistent direction and a confusing plot with little rationality (even for a masala Tamil Rajini film) and more resemblance to a biopic than a gangster-drama. At the same time, Kabali does have a lot of violence, which may make sense or be justified by the film’s title, another name for Lord Shiva, the Hindu god often associated with destruction.
We are introduced to the main protagonist, his past, present, and struggles mainly through flashback and memories, which are effective at times but redundant at others. The scene where Kabali walks through his home recalls memories with his wife in every room is beautiful and gives a glimpse into their relationship. Radhika Apte has essayed her role as Kumudhavalli elegantly, but her perpetual pregnancy during flashbacks is unrealistic. Unlike Kumudhavalli, Yogi is a female character who strays from the ideal heroine in Tamil cinema. She is fiercely protective, physically and mentally strong, yet aware of her emotions and desires, a combination of empowering traits that is seldom seen in female characters of Kollywood.
Despite its weaknesses, Kabali does have some strengths to its credit. The choreography for the song “Ulagam Oruvanukka” is unique and creative, as is Santosh Narayanan’s interesting background score accompanying the glamorous shots of Batu Caves and Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say, Rajinikanth has swag and rocks it immensely well in this film. But perhaps it may be time for the superstar to change his image and start doing more age-appropriate, character roles.
Final Verdict: Kabali is a somewhat underwhelming film with overly high expectations. It lacks a gripping storyline, unexpected plot twists, and slick direction, but it has the star value of superstar Rajini, intense, gory action and violence (definitely PG-13), and a great ending.