Kabali, aka Kabaleeshwaram (Rajinikanth), is a descendant of Indian migrant laborers who were based in Malaysia for generations. Kabali is (by circumstances) a don of sorts, but also someone who tries to do good for society by reforming nascent criminals among the youth who are ruthlessly used by gangsters for their nefarious ends.
The film begins with his release from jail where he has served 25 years for causing trouble, though the real culprits are gang ‘43,’ led by Tony Lee (Winston Chao), who are inexplicably roaming free when their illegal activities range from murder, prostitution and trafficking to drugs. Kabali comes out of jail to meet his loyalists, led by Aamir (John Vijay), and there is a celebration.
But there are scores to be settled, as Kabali did not deserve jail, and, in the process, ‘43’ had murdered his pregnant wife Roopa (Radhika Apte). Without wasting time, and following leads, Kabali takes the villains head on. Midway, he comes to know that his wife died after delivering his daughter. By chance, daughter Yogi (Dhansika) gets to know of him on time, as she is now a contract killer and has been giving an assignment to finish her own father. Yogi and Kabali come together.
But now, Kabali comes to know that his wife is alive as well. After a prolonged search that takes some 30 minutes or more of screen time, she is found in some obscure place in Pondicherry!
After this, Kabali goes to his enemies telling them they could never destroy the family. And at long length, finally, the villains are vanquished.
“Kabali” is one of those Rajini-thons where you would be loony if you expected logic or even logic in the illogic. It is unapologetically mindless, but then we Hindi audiences are fans of the Manmohan Desai style of illogic, which has its own convincing power or emotional voltage even in the mindlessness. While this film is nothing but a showcase of Rajinikanth’s heroics, we really cannot identify with many characters and their behavior and motivations, like that of the young boy who joins Kabali’s army or even the drug addict (Riythvika) who calls him “Papa.”
The second aspect is the sheer quantity of movie! While Hindi cinema has been opting for crisp narrations since the last five years (barring films that have meat that needs greater length), Tamil audiences clearly need as much they can get of their beloved Rajini. The editing is too, too languid, and the film could have removed 32 minutes at least very easily from its 2.32-hour run.
The background music is extremely loud, while the songs (Santhosh Narayanan) are worse. Not everyone can be M.M. Kreem to make songs that sound equally good in two languages, and here, there is no melody either!
The camerawork (G. Murali Vardhan) is superb, and the dialogues (as in all post-2000 dubbed films except “Bahubali” and “Robot”) excessive — the Hindi dialogue writer and lyricist(s) are not even credited. Pa. Ranjith’s direction is aimed for the gallery, but surely, even in Chennai, the gallery must be changing? The screenplay is too convoluted, apparently just to show more (and more) of Rajini!
Apte is sincere and her reunion scene impressive, but the show is stolen by the quicksilver Dhansika as Yogi. Here is ready-made star material, and her eyes do half the job. From the supporting cast, Vijay as Aamir leaves a mark.
But as said and reiterated again, “Kabali” belongs exclusively to Rajinikanth. Playing his age for the first time (though we do not know why Apte is made to look EXACTLY the same after 25 years!), he is the life and blood of a film that may be much better than “Lingaa” but does not come close to any of his earlier blockbusters that has made ‘Thalaiva” what he is. It’s time, perhaps, that Rajini-sir became a tad picky about not only his scripts but also his filmmakers.