What does Kabali mean? Stop asking that. It’s blasphemy

  • Vignesh Radhakrishnan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 21, 2016 21:19 IST
Some the questions people ask about Kabali!  ‘Is it a name? Is it a phenomenon? Is it a place? Is Raijni playing a cabbie called Kabali? Is he a Kabaddi player?’ (Official poster)

Being the only south Indian in an office full of non-Tamil speaking Rajinikanth fans has its problems.

From the time Kabali’s teaser was out until now --- with just a day remaining for the film’s release, I’m frequently being questioned by a range of people: ‘What is the meaning of the word Kabali’?

Some the questions I encountered: ‘Is it a name? Is it a phenomenon? Is it a place? Is Raijni playing a cabbie called Kabali? Is he a Kabaddi player?’ Phew...

The answer is in the trailer, I tell them, with no effect. They watch it a million times and come back with the same question.

I decided to dig deep to satiate their hunger for Kabali trivia.

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The unwritten rule

First things first: in Tamil film industry, especially in big-hero movies, it is an unwritten rule that the film’s name is the shortened version of the lead role played by the hero.

Rajinikanth has been following this for a long time. At least since he was crowned a ‘super star’, almost all his movies were named after the protagonist’s name.

Sample this: in the 1999 blockbuster Padayappa, he played a self-made man, Aaru Padayappan. In the 1994 romantic comedy Veera, he played Muthuveerappan a singer-song writer from a village who wants to enter the music industry.

The list is huge: Linga-Lingeshwaran, Sivaji-Sivaji, Arunachalam-Arunachalam, Muthu-Muthu and Annamalai-Annamalai have all followed the same rule.

Kabali is no exception. In this film too Rajini plays Kabaleeshwaran, a Malaysia-based don who had humble beginnings. Rumour has it that the movie is based on a true story.

Read | Kabali: Rajinikanth is still the only boss of Tamil cinema

Radhika Apte features in Kabali as Rajinikanth’s wife. (Kabalipage/Facebook)

What is Kabali?

But this time around, Kabali, is not just a shortened version of the character he plays. It has a deep-rooted history which goes back to the 60s and 70s of Tamil cinema.

Right from the black and white movies, the name Kabali has been used for the sidekicks to the villains. But not often the anti-hero is named Kabali. Reason? Who cares! Maybe the writers just found it easy and didn’t get time to think of a name for characters which has no bearing in the plot and made it up during shooting.

Numerous times we have heard villains telling his accomplices: “Hey kabali, kill him”, “Hey Kabali, let us bomb the hotel”, “Hey Kabali, will you go to jail on my behalf.”

Right from the days of Nambiyaar, a notorious villain who plotted the downfall of MG Ramachandran (the former Tamil Nadu chief minister who was a sensation onscreen) in hundreds of films, to the new-age villains in modern movies have had side kicks named Kabali.

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A lot rides on Kabali for the star as his last two films, Kochadaiiyaan and Lingaa, did badly. (Kabalipage/Facebook)

So is Rajini playing a sidekick?

Of course not. Those days are long gone. If Rajini plays the sidekick, the sidekick becomes a superhero.

The trailer shows one of the villains in the movie calling out angrily “Who is Kabali? Ask him to come here”. And Rajini explains why the villain’s tone was not right and why he should learn some respect.

“In Tamil films there are side kicks who have a mole in the cheek, a twirling moustache, wearing a lungi, and when the main villain calls ‘Hey Kabali’ he comes and folds his hands and respectfully asks ‘What is it, master?’. Do you think I’m that kind of a Kabali. No. I’m the ‘Kabali’.”

Full coverage of Kabali mania

Watch the trailer of Kabali here:

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