I watched Kabali in Telugu on Sunday with around 1000 people. After the shouts in the first 10 minutes, they were very subdued. Guess they were expecting a more ‘mass’ movie.

I had read some reviews already so my expectations were already tempered down. Firstly, it’s a very different Rajinikant movie…

  • No comedy – The director held his guns on this one when pressurised by Rajini’s daughter to have some comedy added.
  • No Rajini style / stunts / mannerisms  – There is probably one where the rod (& later in the movie, a gun) comes out of his sleeve. You can hardly call it a signature style / stunt.
  • No “punch” dialogues – I don’t know how it was in Tamil, but except for one dialogue, you don’t remember many.
  • No songs – Despite the music earning good praise, there are only 2 songs that play out to some extent in the movie. Even those, I am sure the director was pressurised into adding and he relegated them to the background.
  • Slow paced – The movie was definitely slow in parts. I assume it was to let the acting take precedence. In other Rajini movies, these slow parts would probably have been filled with slapstick comedy to keep audience (and critics) attention.
  • Shock ending – The  ending was a bit of a shocker. Even to me – I mean, how can you end a ‘superstar’ movie like that?! But, it sunk in slowly that it was a directors movie and not that of a ‘superstar’.

Secondly, it was a story that was difficult to understand – was it a movie about a don searching for his wife, was it a dons revenge story or was it a story about the Malaysian Tamils? Too many characters and too many sub-plots with a number of unexpected twists in the plots. I will admit, I didn’t get many parts of it. One, because of the screaming crowds. Two, because I didn’t have much background of the history of Malaysian Tamils and indentured labourers. And three, because my 9 month old kiddo who was watching his first movie and I had to keep him from screaming once in a while.

Before (or after) watching the movie, I think it’s worthwhile reading about how Indians, especially Tamilians, settled in Malaysia. Here’s a nice article on the nuances of the movie with respect to Malaysian Tamils.

I don’t think many people got the nuances in the story. Worst still, I don’t think many critics got it either. The average critic panned Kabali, the movie and praised Rajinikanth, the actor (as an aside, they couldn’t afford to alienate the average Rajini fan by panning him). The Telugu reviews averaged 2.4 / 5. The Bollywood reviewers didn’t get the story and panned the pace and plot. Of these two, I think the reviews of the Bollywood guys were quite off. Most wrote the review with no understanding of the background that made up this plot of this movie, many didn’t know the directors capability and many don’t know the real extent of Rajini’s stardom and the compromises the director would have made to accommodate it (far worst, they didn’t watch it in Tamil. Many parts were lost in translation even in Telugu and I am sure in Hindi it would have been far worse). The Tamil reviewers were a little more nuanced as they had the necessary background of a terrific director and actor but many probably didn’t get the story either.

In any case, I don’t think many people are going to watch the movie multiple times to understand the nuances in the plot. Which is such a shame.  The plot, the direction and the acting definitely deserve a second look.

My review – a) The acting of the lead character is brilliant. The supporting cast not so much. b) The director probably compromised quite a bit on how he wanted to tell the story to accommodate the superstar. I would have loved to see a directors film. c) The plot was engaging enough for me to read a little bit more about  the history of Malaysian Tamils (and I do want to see the other movies of the director – Attakathi and Madras). Given a chance, I’ll probably watch the Tamil version of Kabali with sub-titles and before that brush up on history of colonisation in Malaysian.

Before I conclude, this movie is probably going to smash all box-office records in India and abroad for an Indian movie. It has already earned Rs.400 crore – Rs.200 crore pre release and Rs.200 crore in 3 days. Which goes to prove that  critics got this movie wrong.

And finally, this tweet says so much about the legend of Rajinikant…