As the movie opens, the Malaysian police get worried about a prisoner being released from jail after 25 years. In the next scene, the camera pans through the grills of the prison, a man in blue with his salt and pepper hair and beard is seen reading a book. As he walks out of his cell, the other men in blue tell him, “we will join you soon.” And there begins Kabali’s (Rajinikanth) mission to save the oppressed.
As a gangster, who stood for the equal rights of the oppressed Tamils in Malaysia and waged war against drug and prostitution mafia run by a Chinese don Tony Lee played by Winston Chao, he was jailed. Kabali is out from jail with a mission to finish off the drug and prostitution mafia, uplift the oppressed and find his wife Kumudhavalli played by Radhika Apte and his family. Set in beautiful Malaysia and the streets of Thailand, Kabali touches upon the conflict between Malaysians and Tamils.
Throughout the movie, Rajini walks in style with a blazer and a tie and at times with a gun. The white beard in the first half disappears in the second. He doesn’t blaze on screen with dizzying special effects like in Enthiran or Shivaji. Rajinikant's introduction scene, however, where he is seen reading My Father Baliah, a memoir by Dalit thinker Y.B. Satyanarayana on Dalit lives in post and pre-independent India, tells the audience the hero’s mission is to work for the oppressed. Though it is a typical Pa Ranjith style, as in his earlier two movies—Attakathi and Madras—it serves the backbone to the two hour 35 minute script.
Magizhchi, except this word, the movie doesn’t bank on punch dialogues. Though in a few scenes Rajinikanth is seen advising, “Let the birds fly,” there are not many power-packed dialogues his fans can take home. The movie sails through the first half giving the audience the feel of a gangster and Kabali’s mission to win, recalling how he lived and how he ended up in jail. And as we keep wondering what next, Rajinikanth is shot down in the streets of Malaysia and it is intermission. Now Rajini’s white beard diappears. The chase and the charm in the stunts in the first half is completely lost in the second half. Rajini style and mannerisms exist, but his age obviously shows.
And Radhika Apte, decked in a simple sari and a big bindi, looks gorgeous. Dhanshika plays a perfect gangster and a loving daughter. Nasser makes a brief appearance and his dialogues recall the days of oppression faced by Tamils in Malaysia. The screenplay and the script do not commend applause from Rajini fans who want to see him back with fire. The movie falls short of a hardcore storyline except the generic gangster script.
“Naa vanthutennu sollu. 25 varusham munnadi epdi iruntheno apdiye vanthutennu sollu. Kabali daa!” announces the return of Rajinikanth to the silver screen as there were rave reviews about his performance after his Kochadaiiyaan and Lingaa bombed at the box office. But in Kabali, the star in Rajini is missing. His walking, flipping his coat in style, all show he is ageing and the real fire in the actor is no more.
Santhosh Narayanan’s soundtrack is superb. Whistles and claps fill the theatre when the mesmeric Neruppu da is played in background and Rajinikanth is seen walking in style. BGM and the songs add strength to the script.
Given the script and Rajini’s age, Kabali doesn’t keep up to the sky high expectations and the hype created around it. Though Rajinikanth’s die-hard fans can feel proud to have watched their Thalaivar for two and half hours, it fails the ordinary movie watching crowd who walk into the theatre to have fun and entertainment. Even Rajini's fans would admit Kabali is no match to Shivaji or Baasha or Mullum Malarum. Though, in a few frames, Rajinikanth’s style and costume reminds one about his Mullum Malarum performance, directed by Mahendran, it fails to give you goosebumps as expected.
Director: Pa Ranjith
Cast: Rajinikanth, Winstan Chao, Radhika Apte, Dhanshika, Dinesh Ravi, Kishore, John Vijay, Riythvika, Rosyam Nor