Chennai: Every Rajinikanth starrer has its own enormous orbit and Kabali is no different. It has arrived in theatres around the country and the world accompanied by unprecedented hype.
Does it live up to the expectations?
While that question would be absolutely redundant for Rajini’s fandom, a film cannot but be dispassionately assessed for its intrinsic cinematic qualities.
Kabali is at best a patchy potboiler that rides on the shoulders of the megastar who can do no wrong but spirals out of control owing to an overdose of vapid violence.
Rajini plays his own age in Kabali although there are passages in the film that trace his rise and his relationship with his would-be wife and show a younger, sprightlier avatar of the actor.
When the film opens, Kabaleeshwaran (Rajinikanth), a dreaded Kuala Lumpur mafia don, has already served a 25-year jail term. He walks out of prison and receives a hero’s welcome.
In the long years of his absence, the rival gang has taken control of the city’s underworld. So Kabali, with the aid of his trusted lieutenants some new, some freshly acquired has to get down to reclaiming his lost turf.
But he is obviously no ordinary criminal. He runs a charitable foundation aimed at rescuing wayward youngsters from the streets and giving them a new lease of life.
As Kabali goes about his mission to clean up the Kuala Lumpur underworld dominated by sex traffickers and drug peddlers, the audience receives little capsules of information about his ascent to power and the about the major personal setbacks that he has suffered along the line.
These include the violent death of his wife Rupa (Radhika Apte), a spirited plantation worker who helps Kabali in his struggle to secure greater dignity and higher wages for Indian migrants working in the fields like slaves.
After a rather predictable first half overshadowed by gory gang wars, the second half is livened up just a tad by emotionally charged moments, including one that hinges on the protagonist discovering that he has a daughter (Dhansika).
But it isn’t emotional traction that Kabali is looking for. Director Pa Ranjith adopts a larger-than-life approach to the issue of workers’ rights and racial tensions.
So eventually Kabali degenerates into a clash between the protagonist’s gang and a brutal Chinese crime lord named Tony Lee (Taiwanese actor Winston Chao).
Needless to say, the body count is extremely high and a lot of blood is shed, but Rajini, as always, has the last laugh.
It is unlikely that Kabali will send everybody into raptures the film has far too much flab to make an even impact. But rest assured that Rajinikanth fans and they are legion will have no reason to go home unduly disappointed with all the sound and fury that the film whips up.