Kaala: Heavy on Ideologies, Light on Execution
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Kaala, director Pa Ranjith & Superstar Rajni’s second back to back film is a mixed bag. On one hand, you see the superstar in Rajni take a backseat as Ranjith’s ideologies take the centre stage. But post Kabali, one would expect this duo to have found their unique voice together. Sadly, just like their first film, they continue to struggle with a story that is neither a full-fledged Ranjith film nor an out and out Rajni film. Kaala does have interesting layers that envelop this otherwise predictable story. But do these layers make the film a legendary one? That depends entirely on how you perceive the current political climate in India.
Set in Mumbai, Kaala tells the story of Karikaalan (Rajnikanth) and his struggle to protect the slums of Dharavi from being taken over by the greedy politician, Hari Dada (Nana Patekar). Having painted the entire city in streaks of Saffron, Hari Dada makes it his life’s mission to clean the ‘Dharavi slums’ by claiming ownership of the land and building matchbox sized apartments in skyscrapers. Karikaalan aka Kaala is determined to nullify Hari Dada’s efforts to destroy his home ground. He stands up and protects the livelihood of his people and their humble homes by holding on to their ownership of the land. Hari Dada and Kaala locking horns when they meet with a clash of interest and the power struggle that follows forms the crux of the film.
In Kaala, Pa Ranjith meets with an ideological outburst. It is evident that this film is purely cathartic for him. Through Rajni, he finds an outlet for all the frustration he has had bottled up surrounding the current state of Indian Politics. From the native mongrel that looks spaced-out to the relentless will of the protesters in Kaala, Ranjith ensures that his ideologies are sprinkled in every nook and cranny of the film. Sadly though, in the angst and hurry to voice his thoughts and principles, the lets go of the filmmaker in him.
Kaala is full of interesting ideas that fail to translate to the screen for a lack of imagination. For instance, one scene in the second half has Hari Dada sitting down with his family for a recital of the Ramayana. In this recital, the pandit goes on to describe the horrendous power that Ravana holds. Through this entire portion of the recital, you are taken through how as soon as one of Kaala’s trusted men drops, another one takes his place. From this scene, it is clear that the larger-than-life presence of Rajni is watered down to make way for people and their strong-willed protest. Sadly though, this scene could’ve been much more powerful had it been executed with much more imagination.
Furthermore, for a film that tries to step into the blockbuster category, Kaala’s emotional sensibilities appear much more toned down. In Madras, when Anbu dies, it leaves a hole in your heart. But when characters in Kaala pass away, you distance yourself from their death. It appears as though you aren’t given a convincing emotional window into their lives in order for you to become attached. There are two crucial deaths in the film. But the reasoning and the direction of the story after these deaths are unclear. With every cut-throat incident, you expect Kaala’s heart to harden, but he seems completely unaffected by it. This makes the film’s emotional layering a bit shallow.
The direction Kaala takes is quite predictable. The story feels like a documentary more than a fictional film. The grammar of cinema is utilized in such an underwhelming manner. After a point, the film begins to resemble many other mainstream Tamil films; there are shades of a Nayagan and traces of Padayappa. For instance, The ‘Thangasella’ song is way too similar to ‘Kicku Eruthe’.
The writing and screenplay too appear too ordinary for it to feel like a Ranjith film. The same Ranjith who beautifully destroys the propaganda that dominated the wall in Madras with splashes of vibrant paint, stages a holi sequence in Kaala that begins with the people of Dharavi splashing each other with black colour powder. The difference between these two scenes is the way in which they are executed. The former comes about with such subtlety while the latter feels clichéd.
From Madras to Kaala, there are many repetitive elements that make Ranjith’s films feel too predictable. From the colour splashes to the rappers, a lot of aspects have made a re-appearance. Maybe it’s time for him to bring back the mystery that earlier enveloped his tales. Maybe it’s better if people waited to see how his stories are going to unfold rather than already predicting the outcome.
Nevertheless, Kaala has its fair share of interesting scenes as well. It is wonderful to see Rajni’s stardom being used to convey and address an issue that is bigger than him. In Kaala, Rajni becomes a symbol. His massive appeal is used as a means to convey Ranjith’s ideologies. In many scenes, Kaala lets his people do his dirty work for him and this aspect is quite surprising. For instance, the action sequence that follows the ‘Kya Re Setting Ah’ is lead by his son, Selvam.
Ranjith’s writes the arc of elderly love really well. The love that ebbs and flows between Kaala and his wife Selvi is portrayed quite beautifully. One particular scene in which Selvi gets possessive over Kaala and insists on going to meet her first love too is heart-warming.
As Karikaalan aka Kaala, Rajni brings his signature brand of charisma. His comebacks are as sharp as ever and his ability to hold his own is as magnanimous as expected. But if you are looking for something new, you will be disappointed. Considering the actor’s age, his ability to perform convincing stunt sequences has dropped down a notch.
As Selvi, Easwari Rao steals the limelight. She is absolutely brilliant. The innocence yet strength that are the core of her character are brought to life impeccably by Rao’s performance. Whenever she is in the frame, the energy of that scene manifolds.
Another memorable character is that of Samuthirakani’s. Playing Kaala’s best-friend his drunken demeanor is hilarious and touching. He reminds you of the role Janakaraj plays in Nayagan.
Last but not the least Nana Patekar is amazing as the ruthless Hari Dada. His subtle performance captures the nuances of his character to a T. His Tamil dubbing though, provides too much scope for unintentional comedy.
The art department of Kaala has worked hard to establish the Black versus White theme of the film. From clothes to furniture, everything has been paid attention to. But the cinematography turns out to be quite average. If only cinematographer Murali G had gone to greater lengths to play around with this theme. Many more innovations could’ve been tried out especially pertaining to the colouring of the film and its lighting patterns.
Santhosh Narayanan’s music is a complete dream. From Thangasela to Kannama, all the tracks in Kaala prove to be quite memorable.
On the whole, Kaala is heavy on ideologies but goes incredibly light on the filmmaking. Maybe time has come for this duo to break apart and go on to do things that make them who they are rather than trying to forcibly join forces.