The Malaysian police and the underworld are agog for
the same reason: Kabali is being released from prison after 25 years.
The nattily dressed gangster who loves the three-piece
suits his wife told him to wear, struts out of jail to a hero’s welcome. He’s
Kuala Lumpur’s very own Robin Hood because he does so much good for the Tamil
community there. Unlike rival Tony Lee who’s ruthless and wants Kabali’s head
at any price.
So how did he land in jail? A long and plodding
flashback ensues. Gun shots reverberate around Malaysia with gangsters gunning down
one another. One bullet also fells Roopa the wife he adores. The body count is
high, Kabali is jailed.
Once he’s out, the bloodshed resumes, sometimes
shifting the chaos to Thailand. He’s still a marked man and a deadly female assassin
is hired by Tony Lee. But Kabali has a charmed life. Even half a dozen bullet
wounds can’t get him an obituary.
For over an hour, there’s nothing but blood spilling
until interval point when Kabali discovers he’s not alone in the world. He’s
got a daughter and a wife. For a brief spell, the story moves to Chennai and
the Auroville ashram in Puducherry for a family reunion and a few more
predictable flashbacks. The Kabalis are invincible, indeed.
Is there anything left to do? Oh yes, Tony Lee must be
annihilated by Kabali. And maybe Kabali pays for his sins with his life. But
you never know.
Writer-director Pa Ranjith’s 150-minute ode to
Rajinikanth’s indestructible persona has nothing to offer but his unabashed
worship of the ageing star actor. If only a fraction of what was spent on the
hype and the fancy suits had gone into writing a substantial story and screenplay, Kabali could have turned into an
interesting film on Indians in Malaysia. Pandering to the superstar’s
personality is fine but Ranjith doesn’t bother to even package it with slick
fights or a racy story or rollicking comic moments. The entertainment is zero,
the entire effort is so totally on padding the hero.
Rajinikanth does what he’s been doing for decades but
the style and endearing mannerisms of yore seem forced today. Radhika Apte as
wife Roopa is perfect as always. Winston Chao as Tony Lee is like a caricature.
The music does not have pan-India appeal and even the Neruppu da number doesn‘t have the fire it promised in the
For an immensely disappointing attempt to reheat the
old Rajnikanth charisma, Kabali gets
a 2* rating.
Bharathi S Pradhan
Senior Journalist & Author