Kabali is set in Malaysia, with a backdrop of two rival gangs – a good one and bad one. Yeah a So called Good Gang which does not indulge in drugs and prostitution. It is headed by Malaysian Tamil Godfather like persona Kabali. Film enters into Revenge cum Gangster Drama mode and abruptly changes tracks to several plots and flashbacks, which does not allow a chance for audience to connect with the movie until the intermission.
There are many undertones of Dalit/Oppressed Class struggle in the film right from the word go. In the introductory scene itself, Kabali is seen reading a book titled ‘My Father Baliah’ about extra-ordinary struggle of a Dalit father to educate his children. Even the backstory of Kabali is based on the similar established versus oppressed struggle and emergence of a leader who turns into a beloved People’s Gang leader. Protagonist even tries to justify the transformation of a common man into a suit clad gangster with a dialogue which brushes the politics behind the cloth shedding of Gandhi and Ambedkar’s choice of a suit. Pa Ranjith tries to be true to his own artistic vision but fails miserably to go for a full-fledged honest portrayal of the social and political undercurrents of a Tamil laborer’s society in Malaysia.
As far as acting is concerned, Radhika Apte shines like a star. Even in those slo-mo flashbacks she brings life to the movie. Her heart-wrenching outburst after the reunion in the second half leaves an imprint on the mind which is far sharper than that of Superstar Rajani. Dhaniska takes the centerstage for a while in the movie in her pivotal role of Yogi. Other supporting cast members are pathetic with exception of John Vijay and Attakathi Dinesh.
The main culprit behind the shortcomings of film is the tug of war between a Director’s vision and Actor’s Superstardom. Film tries to cater both versions of the film but falls flat when these versions drift apart from each other farther and farther away as the movie progresses. Kabali is not Usual Superstar Rajni film. It teases ardent Rajni fan with few scenes, styles, mannerisms and Neruppadda BGM but it is a little bit disappointing to hardcore fans to see frail, old Rajni who is emotionally vulnerable and in a salvation mode. Actor Rajani excels in few scenes like Struggle of Young Kabali, US Phone scene in Chennai, a father-daughter scene in hotel and reunion scene in Pondicherry. But he is nowhere near the Rajni we have seen in Thalapathy or Baasha. Overall Kabali is an average film in both Ranjith & Rajni’s standards.
Check out this speed painting of Rajni just before movie by Artist Vilas Nayak. You can check more about him here