'Darbar': A Rajini hit, not Murugadoss's blockbuster

Amid its shortcomings, Darbar teaches us a big lesson. In Indian commercial cinema today, there is nobody like Rajinikanth.

Film: Darbar

Language: Tamil

Director: AR Murugadoss

Cast: Rajinikanth, Nayanthara, Nivetha Thomas, Yogi Babu, Suniel Shetty

Stars: 3

Darbar’s director AR Murugadoss is a seasoned campaigner. But his 12-film experience notwithstanding, Murugadoss had the tricky task of taking one of the two routes available ahead of his maiden venture with Rajinikanth. Is it about pleasing the ‘Superstar’ fans? Or is it about making a ‘Murgadoss film’ with Rajinikanth’s calibre?

Very early into Darbar, it’s clear that Murugadoss has chosen the first path. Darbar is masterfully anchored by Rajinikanth. The story pales in comparison with the legendary actor’s performance so much so that whenever he isn’t on screen, we wonder if we are watching two different films at the same time.

As Aditya Arunasalam, Rajinikanth plays the ‘mad’ and ‘bad’ cop in Mumbai out to clean the drug menace in Mumbai. The honest yet daring police officer will have to lock horns with the feared dons of the city to succeed.

‘Get Rajinified’ was the phrase made popular by Petta but full marks to Murgadoss for outdoing Karthik Subbaraj’s film in providing consistent and roaring electrifying moments that only Rajinikanth can produce on-screen. Not surprisingly, knowing his unceasing energy, there is no dip in his dialogue delivery or mannerisms and for a while, we hum the tune of ‘keep it going Thalaivar’.   

But the problems kick in when you begin to look for freshness in the story. Unfortunately, Murugadoss churns out a generic cop drama. With too many plot points and a plethora of characters, the film’s screenplay lacks finesse. The film moves so fast that we wonder if we are watching a rehashed version of the forgettable Singham sequels.

Murugadoss is known for his gimmicks. While many of them, in the past, have worked, his ideas at crucial junctures largely fall flat in Darbar. The poor attention to the technical aspect of the film is a let-down from such a well-known director. The lip sync of Hindi-speaking actors is awfully bad while the fight choreography required better imagination.

Despite repeated debates, commercial cinema continues to be complacent while dealing with female leads. For someone known rightly known as the ‘Lady Superstar’, Nayanthara deserved more than her clumsily-handled character. Suniel Shetty’s significance is only as small as it is shown in the underwhelming trailer.

Amid its shortcomings, Darbar teaches us a big lesson. In Indian commercial cinema today, there is nobody like Rajinikanth. The movie-watching experience while he is in action is something no other actor has managed to create. Despite many bumps in the story, you continue to root for him.

This made me think of an idea of a ‘Rajinikanth-only’ film. Praising Shankar’s Enthiran,  National-Award winning critic Baradwaj Rangan had written that the film works because the actor himself plays the villain in the SciFi flick. Meaning, only Rajinikanth can take on Rajinikanth. For his hard-core fans, the story takes a backseat. It’s proven that in a Rajinikanth film, the stellar cast, if there is one, doesn’t matter.

It is always a one-man show. Darbar is a one-man show.   

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