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Kaala  : Outdated Black & White Stand-off
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Friday, June 8, 2018
Action
Pa. Ranjith
Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi, Samuthirakani, Eswari Rao

When politician Haridev Abhyankar visits Kaala, the King of Dharavi, it’s a study in contrast. Haridev is in full white, Kaala is in his trademark all-black. It’s a reversal of wardrobes as the nasty neta out to grab the prime real estate of Dharavi is in white even if his deeds are like charcoal. Godfather Kaala, on the other, wears a natty black kurta/shirt over a stark black lungi though he’s the hero who upholds the pride of Dharavi. And he keeps stroking his white beard.

 

That is perhaps director PA Ranjith’s only departure from norm as he picks a plot that was popular in the 70s and 80s.

 

He re-creates Dharavi, the planet’s most talked-about slum, as a world of its own where fun and friendships flower until urban gangsters (corrupt officials and leaders) driven by greed walk in coveting the land, ready to raze the homes of the poor. But Kaala’s word is law in Dharavi which he demonstrates when netaHaridevarrives, warns him and walks off. ‘I haven’t given you permission to leave,’ says Kaala to him. It’s his Kaala Qila. The neta waves him away and gets into his car with his cronies but at every turn the slum-dwellers find different ways to block him. ‘Go get his permission,’ they advise a startled Haridev. That’s a fleeting scene interestingly done.

 

It set the basics for the epic confrontation between Haridev and Kaala who won’t allow the politician-builder-police nexus take over Dharavi. The land belongs to the people, is the theme protest.

 

The fight between the unscrupulous powerful and their poor targets is an ancient premise. Politics over religion is thrown in, houses of the poor are burnt.

 

A slum that’s like a mini-Chennai in the heart of Mumbai would have its appeal restricted purely to Rajinikanth’s fans especially in the single screens. But Ranjith attempts a pan-India flavour with the presence of Hindi cinema actors Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi and Pankaj Tripathi along with Marathi mulgi Anjali Patil. It ends up being a funny khichdi where actors speak Tamil and lapse into Hindi, English or Marathi.

 

In trying to be inclusive, Kaala may have wife Selvi with a brood of children and grandchildren. But there’s Zarina who’s a blast from the past and old flames threaten to be lit. That’s only for a bit of romance since Kaala soon makes it clear that it’s only Selvi for him. The inclusivity extends to an appeasing nikkah that Kaala and Zarina were all set for way back in the past as if every inter-religious marriage should only be a nikkah.

 

An overlong film with overused vocabulary that likens the Haridev-Kaala confrontation to a fight between Ram and Ravan, fights and blasts erupt at mandatory intervals but they’re routinely scripted. Except for one fight in the rain where Kaala uses an umbrella as his weapon.

 

Besides suspending belief over Kaala emerging victorious after every showdown with powerful Haridev,even after being shot at and burnt down, there’s a marked lack of slickness. For instance, there’s a family screaming behind a wall of fire that’s engulfed their house. But Rajini walks in to help them and so does Zarina.So what stopped those supposedly trapped from running for their lives if these two could walk in with impunity?

 

Rajinikanth has a familiar run as Kaala, as the dada of Dharavi, and his presence is reassuring. Huma arrives pretty impressively as an independent, well-travelled woman but slips into playing sidey to Kaala.Anjali Patil is fiery as a Dharavi dweller who won’t give up. Though Easwari Rao is a tad loud as talkative Selvi, like Hema Malini in Sholay, she manages to perk up the house where all of them live.

 

Ultimately this is a Rajinikanth film that’s meant exclusively for his core audience in the single screens. It’s not a multiplex watch, it’s not a vastly new subject and it’s doesn’t seem like the average Hindi audience will squirm through something seen so often before.

 

Verdict: Kaala will score better in Tamil than it would in Hindi. For a film thattells a terribly old-fashioned story, Kaala gets a 2.5* rating. 

 

Direction: 3.5/5
Story: 2/5

Screenplay: 2/5
Dialogues: 2.5.5

Music: 2.5/5

 

Reviewed by

Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author
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