Following Kabali, the Rajinikanth–Pa. Ranjith combination is back in Kaala, with a social message film packaged as an entertainer. The film works largely due to Rajinikanth’s charisma and his style.
There is a reason why epics are timeless. The human emotions they locate within the theatre of life are eternal. The struggles they speak of have always existed. But there is yet another reason why epics endure – they are open to interpretation. The stories within the story have the power to change its meaning, depending on which episodes the storyteller wants to emphasise. And from whose point of view.
Rajinikanth plays Kaala, a don under whose protection the people of Dharavi live. Their fight is for the land – and as the film tells us in the beginning, war began with private property and it continues to be fought for it. Ranjith’s films have been discussed a great deal for their subtext. In Kaala, however, the subtext isn’t hiding in the margins. It’s out in the light, for everyone to see. It’s in the clothes Kaala wears – either blue or black. It’s in the name of the builder who wants to destroy the slum – Manu realty. It’s in the name of the political party the spotlessly white clothed Hari dada (Nana Patekar) belongs to – Navbharath Nationalist Party. Even in the breed of the dogs the two men own. Kaala has a mongrel named Asami. Hari dada has an almost white Labrador we spot briefly in a shot.
The supporting cast is as impressive. Easwari Rao makes her mark, and the fiery Anjali Patil appears as one of Rajinikanth’s son’s lover. Nana Patekar is left to play second fiddle as a menacing antogonist in white. Santosh Narayan’s music is pedestrian but he makes it up with a terrific background score. The production designer Ramalingam has done a neat job in creating the Dharavi slum, and camerawork by cinematographer Murali results in a handful of visually stunning scenes.
The story is as old as the hills, but the packaging, Rajinikanth’s style factor and dialogue delivery makes the film worth a one-time watch. The major drawback of Kaala is the length of the film — at 2 hours and 46 minutes, there is nothing new in the story.