Despite the massive publicity for Kabali that got thousands of Rajinikanth’s fans on a frenzied high, the film’s lead star seemed to have disappointed both critics and the man on street.
One of the key points of the public relations campaign was Kabali director Pa Ranjith’s assertion, which he made time and again, that he would turn the superstar into a super actor - the kind one saw of him in his early works with auteurs like K Balachander, Bharathiraja and J Mahendran to name a few.
Rajinikanth, in and as, Kabali.
But as this writer walked out of an early screening of Kabali on July 22, there was disappointment writ large on the faces of viewers. Even during the show there was a silence, except for the first 10 minutes when one saw a suited and booted Rajinikanth emerge out of the prison after a 25 years. This was certainly unusual for any Tamil movie with any star worth the name and the kind of din spectators, including women, created made it almost impossible to follow what was being spoken on the screen. But the silence during Kabali was disturbing in different sort of way.
As Tamil actor and stand-up comedian, Bosskey, told this writer soon after watching the film, “This is hardly a Rajinikanth movie”. How true.
For, Kabali was minus all the antics we are so used to seeing in a Rajinikanth film - right from flicking a cigarette in the air to the way he wears and re-wears his “angavastram” (shawl). In any case, Ranjith had planned this - to get the star out of his starry mannerisms that have over a period of time got quite jaded. People were tired of them and this was one important reason why Rajinikanth’s past few movies like Enthiran, Kochadaiiayaan and Lingaa battered the box-office into pulp.
To top it all, Rajinikanth has not been keeping well and the star one saw in Kabali conveyed this in no uncertain terms. As one viewer quipped at the film’s intermission, “Thalaivar (Rajinikanth) is looking so weak”.
So, Ranjith must have had all the noble intentions when he got Kabali off the drawing board. He wanted to show an ageing Rajinikanth as a gangster, who would leave most of the actions to his henchmen, stepping into the ring only in the final sequences to draw his pistols out of his coat sleeves (!) and vanquish the heavily made-up Winston Chao. He essays the Malaysian baddie Tony Lee and looks positively uncomfortable trying to speak in Tamil.
Ranjith got this all right - turning the superman into a docile but dressed-up don. But what the director could not achieve was to transform the showman Rajinikanth into the actor Rajinikanth. The helmer completely failed here. Not surprisingly so. For this was a big task that a rather inexperienced director like Ranjith, who has just two movies - romantic comedy Attakathi and crime drama Madras - in his kitty.
When we tried acing Rajini moves
To be honest, Rajinikanth is far too gone into gimmicks, far too used to showing off with his tricks, and it will need a director of substantial stature to remould Rajinikanth into an actor - all over again. One can only think of two names here. First Mani Ratnam, whose gangster adventure Nayagan, made many, many years ago, still remains a high point in Tamil cinema, nay Indian cinema. And certainly Ratnam’s career best, yes still, and protagonist Kamal Hassan’s best as well, yes still. The second being Vetrimaaran, whose Visaaranai (2015 Venice premiere) and earlier Aadukalam were laudable cinematic efforts.
So, Rajinikanth in Kabali seemed as if he was stranded in no man’s land. He was stopped by Ranjith - or so he has been saying in his interviews - from performing gimmicks (except in one scene where he crosses his legs with stylish panache), and the actor could not sparkle as one. It is Ranjith’s fault to a large extent, for let us not forget that while the theatre is an actor’s platform, cinema is a director’s medium.
In the final analysis, one can contend that Kabali must prod Rajinikanth to pause and ponder. It is time he ceases to view himself as a lover or He-Man chasing nubile young lasses or taking on Goliaths or goondas. A classic example he must bear in mind is that of Dev Anand, who just could not free himself from the lover-boy image even when he was knocking 80, with the result that film after film of his flopped.
On the contrary, artists like Kamal Haasan, Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, have been smart enough to reinvent themselves. We saw a different Kamal in Unnaipol Oruvan and Papanasam, though there were disasters like Uttama Villain and Viswaroopam between these two high points.
Amitabh played an ageing father in Piku that also starred Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan in lead roles.
Bachchan’s Cheeni Kum, Aarakshan, Satyagraha, Black, Paa, Piku, Te3N and Wazir have amply proved that here was a man willing to move with times, even if that meant letting go an avatar which had made him, in the first place, a star. Gone was that angry man of Zanzeer, gone was that lover boy of Silsila. Bachchan drew the drapes over these characters to become a proud restaurant owner in London, a true teacher, a grieving grandfather and a cantankerous old father with an obsessive bowel syndrome.
And the Rishi Kapoor one watched in D Day, where he plays an underworld kingpin! What a change from his Bobby days and his several other romantic movies. He was fantastic in Shuddh Desi Romance as a marriage broker; he was just wonderful in Kapoor and Sons, though the make-up went overboard.
Rishi Kapoor played a cute grandfather in Kapoor and Sons.
Bachchan and Kapoor, and even Hassan, got themselves good scripts and able helmers. But above all, these men made up their minds to select stories that seeped into their ageing psyches - unlike a Dev Saab, who clung on to his fading youth and youthful heroines.
Rajinikanth must get rid of the on-screen halo around him and pick scripts that will help him shine all over again. As an actor, of course.
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