Petta : What A Man !

Yes, that’s Abbas’s line from Padayappa. Not necessarily the best Rajni ” moment” that by any stretch of imagination, in fact the scene might look downright funny to any soul a stranger to RCU, that’s yes Rajni Cinematic Universe and Karthik Subbaraj the director of Petta has made a film which proves that he is stuck in a cinematic time warp of sorts where that dialogue from Padayappa is played over and over again. But he wouldn’t be alone there, considering the fact that the Superstar has a fan base in lands as far as Japan. Rajnikanth might very well be the only import to that country. Okay, maybe I did exaggerate a bit there, but we are talking Rajnikanth and his films where everything is larger than life. The last time a director paid tribute to Rajnikanth was with Sivaji when Shankar finally got to work with him, though one can’t help sigh wondering how Mudhalvan would have turned out had the star said yes to Shankar. Bygones are bygones  and a decade since, a young filmmaker has brought the Rajnikanth every fan yearned for, back to the screen.

Rajnikanth is 68 and he is most probably the only star his size in our part of the world who is the least bothered about looking his age off the screen, he can afford to do that simply because the energy and charisma he brings to his characters on the screen is something even his younger peers cannot match. In Petta he plays a college warden who appears to be more than just that and there’s a hint of mystery to everything he does and says. You know something’s brewing because you have watched him do that in the first half of Bhaasha too. But this time, he is not taking any blows, he’s only delivering them, verbal and physical to anyone who stands in his way. The first half of the movie is essentially a walk in the museum of all things Rajnikanth. Karthik Subbaraj uses everything from silhouettes to shadows to the sound of the star whislting to drive the fans into frenzy. Rajnikanth gets another introduction scene just before the interval which takes us into a narrative totally removed from the fun and frolic of the first half. But before he gets serious Karthik Subbaraj ensures that the fan in every viewer is fed well. Rajnikanth channels his inner Bruce Lee more than once and there’s even a scene where he displays his nunchak skills, obviously a throwback to his Paayumpuli days. Then there’s a song set on the hostel grounds where Rajnikanth shows us that he hasn’t lost his groove. The only time the audience erupted for a scene without the star was when Vijay Sethupathi appeared on the screen. Vijay Sethupathi again sleepwalks in a film where he has little else to do other than being a satellite to the star at the centre. Other Karthik Subbaraj regulars are splattered across the canvas, namely Bobby Simha. Simran makes a breezy comeback and Rajnikanth again gets to show that his charisma hasn’t faded in romantic scenes and songs. But in the second half it’s an entirely different film and these characters disappear. We do not miss them because another set of actors take their place. Sasikumar appears in a role that has shades of more than one buddy character from Rajnikanth films of yore. Nawazzudin Siddiqui in his Tamil debut is in a role that is essentially what we identify him with the most thanks to popular cinema, the nonchalant gangster with a hint of psychopathy.

Kabaali and Kaala were films where the director used Rajnikanth as a medium to sell his politics but unlike Pa. Ranjith, Karthik Subbaraj has done what the likes of  K.S Ravikumar, Suresh Krishna has done in the past, build a shrine for the Thalaiva. Apart from that he has also done something clever here, I feel. Despite Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vijay Sethupathi playing bad guys to Rajnikanth, Karthik Subbaraj who is also the writer has written a character for his favorite actor which almost makes a statement that in the ultimate Rajnikanth film, it’s the star who plays both the hero and the villain. Interestingly this is the second time in a row where a Rajnikanth film references Ramayana, given Tamil Naud’s love-hate relationship historically with the mythological epic. If you see Rajnikanth as a Christ figure against a cross in the first half, he is almost Krishna justifying the means to a win when pitted against opponents who are kin in the second half. Karthik Subbaraj also has taken a subtle jab at the hard right politics here. The only time the film drags a bit is when it ceases to a Rajnikanth film somehere in the middle of the second half and tries to take a serious tone but Karthik Subbaraj, I think it’s to safe to say, saves the film from an inevitable mediocre ending with a cinematic sleight of hand of sorts that will leave the audience stunned, much like the characters on the screen.  After two back to back movies laden heavily with political themes, Petta is just what the doctor ordered for the Superstar and his fans. Rajnified indeed, to the dot.



2.0 : They Have A Marvel, We Have A Shankar.

That’s improvising on a Marvel quote but nothing could be more truer. Shankar once made a love story that had two Aishwarya Rais romancing two Prashanths and he brought in a dinosaur in the climax scene just for the heck of it. This was in 1998 and I still haven’t figured out what that T Rex was doing in the film, but it was indeed as good as Spielberg’s dinos. Dinosaurs that looked life like were quite the rage back then thanks to breakthrough CGI in Jurassic Park and The Lost World and Shankar just had to have one in his film. A perfect one that looked like it walked off from one of the screens where The Lost World was playing and decided to check out Shankar’s Jeans. That’s Shankar for you. Remember how as a kid you had your favorite toy and did all sorts of stuff you could imagine with it? That’s all Shankar’s doing with Rajnikanth. He tested the waters with Sivaji and showed us a spectacle in Enthiran. Now in the Enthiran sequel 2.0, he has just gone bersek with his imagination. He in fact wanted none other than Arnold Schwarzenneger to play the bad guy to Rajnikanth. That failed during talks but how’s that for thinking big?

2.0 is not Shankar’s best in terms of content but it is indeed his most ambitious in terms of  vision and execution. He has focused all his attention on delivering the grand action sequences, so much so that the rest of the film is almost a rush of customary proceedings reminiscent of his earlier films and  I’m not complaining because he just doesn’t give the viewer the time to do that once the film starts rolling. After all, you need to think, to complain. It’s one CGI extravaganza after the other till the end credits roll. The CGI is indeed the best we have ever come across on Indian screens and given Shankar’s imagination even Hollywood studios would have budget concerns if they were to bring them to screen flawlessly. Lyca has done more than their best here I’d say. Almost all Shankar films to date have a core vigilante theme around which he builds the rest of the story. Here that core belongs to Akshay Kumar.No, he owns it.And one wishes Shankar had spent more time on that character.The back story of Akshay Kumar’s character was poignant and compelling which evoked a sincere and touching performance from the actor too. The sensitive enviornmental threat being discussed here is indeed true , confirmed by reports from the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Yes, Shankar takes more than a few liberties and resorts to his hat when science can’t explain the proceedings on screen. He throws quite a fair share of bull about 5th force at the audience but I don’t recall anyone complaining about Adamantium or Vibranium. Just saying in case you can’t live without logic,ironical though considering you’re in for a movie. Though it’s unlikely that the system or the people in charge would change for good, the disturbing message when passed on a scale as large as this is something that lingers, even if it’s only for a short time.

Of the actors, Akshay Kumar is the one who stands out. The appearance of his character seems to have been heavily inspired by Salim Ali , India’s greatest Ornithologist and Akshay Kumar has played the role with conviction, I felt. While Rajni lights up the CGI laden scenes with his moves as 2.0 , Vaseegaran is almost colorless. The mood of the film changes when 2.0 makes his entry and he even does the goat baying thing which rocked the audience in Enthiran. Rajni is at his entertaining best when he plays bad guys.He did that in Chandramukhi with Lakalaka. He manages to do that here too despite the mind boggling CGI Shankar throws at the viewers. Amy Jackson plays a robot and she is at home in the role. No, her jokes dont work but you hardly have time to squirm when the next big CGI scene is always around the corner.And yes you have to watch this in 3D. That takes the experience to a whole another level. ARR is at his best as always with Shankar.For a first in a Shankar film, you hardly have any song sequences except for the one with Akshay Kumar and his birds and the one at the end credits. Pullinangal is vintage ARR with minimal orchestration, a throwback to his Rasathi (Thiruda Thiruda ) days for me. Shankar is an entertainer and he knows commerical cinema inside out.He doesn’t need CGI to hold the viewer’s attention. In his debut film Gentleman, the hero played by Arjun is engaged in a fight mid-heist with an old cop. The cop knocks Arjun down and coughs before he signals Arjun to get back up. He’s just an extra but the scene and the stuntman stay with the audience for eternity .That’s the Shankar we love and miss. Shankar has had his inspirations too here in 2.0 I couldn’t but help notice and that brings me to the fact that in a movie this big that hopes to give Marvel a run for their money, the biggest and most delightful surprise was the smallest one. Find out what I’m talking about for yourself. You may not love it but you definitely cannot help liking it.

Kaala : The Review.

Rajnikanth movies are where you get to realise and count the actual number of hairs  you have on your body. He manages to get each one of them to stand straight up for almost the entire time when you are watching his films. Goosebumps are what he has built his career upon but this time around, in his second consecutive outing with Pa.Ranjith, he has revealed a cinematic side of his that was more or less locked away since Dalapathi hit the screens almost three decades back. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge for Rajni since, and Kaala arrives at a crucial time for the Superstar when he is wading  into the volatile world of Tamil politics. Kaala is unique as a Rajnikanth film in many ways, it is his most political film to date which could obivoulsy be attributed to his change in stature and the man at the helm, Pa.Ranjith. Rajnikanth did try to make a political statement a while back with Baba and that did not help him much then.The politics and symbolism in Kaala were more than evident, right  from the day the first look was released. One of them had Rajni sitting atop a Mahindra Thar sporting a number plate BR 1956, a not so subtle reference to B.R.Ambedkar ,the architect of the Indian Constitution and champion of Dalit rights who passed away in 1956. If that did’nt put things in perspective for you, Nana Patekar’s villain who called for a “Pure India” in the teaser, must definitely have.

I am not sure who has used whom here exactly, if it’s Rajni using Pa.Ranjith to declare his political ambitions or if Pa.Ranjith is using Rajni to speak about his political outlook, maybe it’s both, symbiosis I think is the word. Kaala is set against the backdrop of Dhaaravi, in Mumbai and Kaala is the protector and defacto leader of the people there. Pitted against him are real estate tycoons and Nana Patekar’s Hari Dada who is the representative of the deep reooted regional politics in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai which we know by the name of the Thackrey’s and the Shiv Sena. The director’s intention is anything but subtle here and stops just short of using actual names. The movie takes it’s sweet time to tell the story and woven deftly in there is a love story involving mature adults too where Rajnikanth the actor flexes his muscles after ages, no I am not talking about the Rajni-Huma scenes exactly. Easwari Rao who plays Kaala’s wife will win your hearts and Huma Quereshi is perfectly at ease in her role as Kaala’s long lost love. It’s Pa.Ranjith’s masterstroke here again if you ask me because for all their talk about Dravidian culture and politics the leading men of Tamil Cinema have always chosen to sing and dance with the fair skinned leading ladies from the North.Samuthirakani plays a perpetually drunk man Friday of sorts to Kaala and giving him company are a bunch of less familar faces playing Kaala’s extended family.

If you are a hardcore Rajnikanth fan looking for another Padayappa or Bhaasha you might have to wait for 2.0. Kaala has it’s  fair share of Rajnikanth moments but it also tells a tale of oppression and fight for survival without going over the top as a “Superstar” movie.The movie is loaded with symbolism and makes sublte statements randomly to provide food for thought for the keen observer. At one point in the film a policeman named Shivaji Rao Gaekwad ( yeah right !) is shot dead, which triggers violence that leads up to the climactic showdown.Nana Patekar’s holds his ground with elan in the scenes where he faces off with Rajnikanth. There are some worthy exchanges between Rajni and Nana where both actors leave their mark. Pa.Ranjith has used a Ramayana recital to build up the crescendo towards the end where Kaala’s Ravana is taken on by Haridada’s Ram in a role reversal of sorts.Periyar would have smiled at this reference.It doesn’t end there and Ranjith has gone ahead and depicted the Lankadhanam chapter of Ramayana here in the battle finale.Dhaaravi is Lanka and is being burned down by Hari Dada’s goons. Ravi Kale, who plays Haridada’s lead henchman is in fact Hanuman, replete with a piece of iron that passes for the mythological character’s weapon of choice, the mace. B.R Ambedkar’s  call to educate and agitate finds place in the lyrics of the background score and is played aloud in the ending scenes.Kaala himself advises the younger generation to get educated.The ending of the movie reminded me of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises  where a hero becomes more than a man, becomes an idea and one could almost see inspiration there.On a closing note, Pa. Ranjith has managed a coup d’etat with the climax I think and this has to be one of the most important films in Rajnikanth’s career as an actor and a politician.