2016’s Kabali was a confused mix between Pa Ranjith’s beef Biryani and Rajinikanth’s Masala Bhaath. But with Kaala, the transition is seamless. Ranjith has written Rajini’s character brilliantly.
After Padayappa, there haven’t been any punch dialogues worth remembering. Kaala changes that, while pandering to Pa Ranjith’s overtly pro-Dalit ideology.
From The Word Machmach
Nana Patekar gets down from his white land rover in white and white. He looks around at Dharavi and its people and is unable to hide his disgust. He conveys this with barely a twitch in his eye. The scene ends with a hugely embarrassed Nana walking back after seeking permission from Kaala, who says, ‘NIKAL!’
There isn’t a single wrong note in the film until the interval that comes at 1.5hours. The punch dialogues are there. The fights are surprisingly convincing for a Ranjith film (usually not his forte), and the long lost love between Zareena (Huma) and Kaala is palpable.
What is truly surprising though, is the film’s ability to mingle all this into a politically charged narrative. The blue-white-green flags that represent Ambedkar’s Dalit movement, the books in Kaala’s room that are cornerstones of Dravidian - Dalit ideology (Ravana Kavyam), Kaala’s youngest son named Lenin...the subtext is endless. Even Huma Qureshi’s background, as a Muslim from Pathamadai (southern TN) has a deep and troubled history that most of TN will understand. And all of this, is wrapped in a beautifully choreographed Masala narrative. What’s not to like?
The World of Dharavi
Dharavi’s Tamil diaspora, the hip hop scene that’s a mixture of English, Tamil, Hindi and Marathi; the confounding yet sweet sounding linguistics of the place have all been captured in extreme detail. I’m reminded of the movie ‘Court’, which took set design to a completely different high in realism.
So, Is ‘Kaala’ Thalaiva’s Political Vehicle?
If not for Rajinikanth’s foot-in-the-mouth regarding the Sterlite protests (if we protest for everything, TN will become a crematorium, he said), the answer would have been a resounding YES. The plot was a blueprint for how to - Organise. Educate. Agitate.
The movie begins and ends with protests and combines Rajinikanth’s suspension-of-disbelief fights with what can actually bring about change. But it takes more than movies to make it in politics. MGR, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi used the medium to great effect, but did backbreaking groundwork as well. So we’ll let this be.
Samuthirakani and Co
No character in the film was expendable. As in, in the absence of even one of the characters, the plot would stall. By the end of it all, I wanted to be the son who was fed by ‘Selvi Amma’, the ‘Mama’ who stood by Kaala at all times, one among the crowd who stared you down as Kaala walked into the frame behind me.
Kaala resurrects in a riot of colour in the end. I do hope Rajinikanth’s tattered rep meets the same fate. I’d give the film 4 stars out of 5. If not for the forgettable music, it would have been a film for the ages.