'Kaala' review: Daring spin on Ram-Ravan duel

'Kaala' review: Daring spin on Ram-Ravan duel

Director: Pa Ranjith

Cast: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi


In plain terms of star mojo, Kaala is Kabali on steroids.

Pa. Ranjith’s earlier film with Rajinikanth tottered in its politics, its slow-burner pace and compulsions to sneak in the superstar staples; Kaala gets the message and the mood right, almost. 

It traces life in the slums of Dharavi; at the centre of it all is Karikalan aka Kaala (Rajinikanth), a warlord-mode patriarch who guards his chawl like a village deity, resists land sharks and takes on a mighty neta who visualises a transformed metropolis, cleaned of its filth and people on its fringes.

This is the politics of land, the politics of power it breeds, how it defines the class system, how it defines life itself.

Here, the politics is more explicit – the antagonist, Haridev Abhyankar (a terrific Nana Patekar), is white-clad and wistful of a Digital Dharavi and Pure Mumbai; the imagery is of militant nationalism and the ones who disrupt with questions are branded deshdrohis.

On Kaala’s side of the divide, there are Jai Bheem chants, a son named Lenin, a road named after Periyar. The black-and-red splash in a rousingly choreographed climax and a daring spin on the Ram-Raavan duel are all pointers to the film’s politics.

Ranjith does better here with the mix. Without steering off-course, he serves up some exhilarating Rajini moments — the actor is in fine form and the star pretty much owns the entire pre-interval block that includes an action sequence in the rain, set to a smashing music score (Santhosh Narayanan).

The pace is sluggish in the first half, the hip-hop mode sloganeering/songs distract and the track with Kaala’s former girlfriend (Huma Qureshi) takes time to get to the point. What holds the film together for most of its run-time is the latent tension in its build-ups and a clever use of the Rajinikanth aura.

It’s hard to look away from the fact that all this messaging is delivered through an actor-star perceived — as recent evidence suggests — to have a conformist take on protests and the enforcement of law.

That also makes Ranjith as director of a Rajinikanth production an interesting choice. Or is it, in fact, the message that Rajinikanth himself is trying to send across? “Don’t mix my films with my politics”?

Kaala reconstructs one of our last larger-than-life superheroes on screen to tell stories of real people who fight real, everyday battles for survival. In its fan-pleasing segments, the film nods to the enduring cult of Rajinikanth but what it intends is a statement of dissent from the margins of urban India, a call to rise and resist.