Video Credit: Gulf News

Even with the biggest stars from across India and a Rs6 billion budget that could feed a small country, a visual spectacle can still fall flat if it doesn't emotionally connect. My thoughts on the post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure Kalki 2898 AD border on this sentiment.

The star-studded dystopian drama, led by a galaxy of stars including Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, and Prabhas, should have been a deliriously fun adventure. However, the underwhelming first half, filled with lame jokes by Telugu superstar Prabhas and unintentionally funny villains (here’s looking at a fine actor like Saswata Chatterjee being reduced to a hammy, clownish evil lord), makes it a tiring watch.

Dystopian films often depict societies where oppression, dehumanization, and environmental degradation are rampant, and Kalki 2898 AD fits squarely within this genre. The significance of what Hollywood director Denis Villeneuve said about his desire to make Dune 2 more emotionally resonant than the first part made more sense after sitting through 180 minutes of Kalki 2898 AD. The film, which borrows heavily from Indian mythology Mahabharata and a slew of Hollywood films like George Miller’s Mad Max series, The Matrix, and even Villeneuve’s Dune, reduces it to a pale imitation of the superhero and fantasy franchises from the West. The first hour of this film is as exciting as getting your teeth cleaned.

Kalki 2898 AD
Prabhas in 'Kalki 2898 AD'

The movie opens with Hindu mythological hero Ashwatthama (Bachchan) being cursed with immortality by the Indian God Krishna and then switches to tens of thousands of years into the future where evil reigns in the capital city of Kasi. Oxygen, water, and scruples are rare commodities in this new world. Prabhas plays the playful and morally unscrupulous bounty hunter Bhairava. An inverted triangle, known as the complex and manned by Manas (Chatterjee), runs a tight ship for its tyrant ruler Yaskin (Kamal Haasan), and Bhairava desperately wants a way into the complex. Enter the pregnant Sumathi (Padukone), a human experiment who escapes the clutches of the evil despots at the complex and is desperate to survive. Amitabh Bachchan and many other minions, played by the nifty Anna Ben, come to her rescue in this rocky road adventure. But a spectacle filled with big stars and no souls makes for a frustrating watch.

If you can somehow survive the first hour of this film, the second half is relatively redemptive. Credit must go to the aging matinee idol Bachchan who stands tall and lends immense gravitas to the film. Prabhas, despite his best efforts, is unable to rise above the mediocrity of the script. The scenes in which this Herculean man flirts with his girlfriend (Disha Patani) are awkward, and his inconsequential banter with his swanky vehicle GPS Bujji (“put some music and I will get into the mood to fight”) falls flat. But what do they do when they realize that things aren’t picking up? Lump in as many star cameos as they possibly can. From Baahubali director SS Rajamouli to the dishy Vijay Deverakonda, kitted with bow and arrow, playing the Hindu warrior Arjun, this film is filled with who’s who of Indian stars. But cameos can’t gloss over an exhausting plot that tries too hard to impress. Before the movie nose-dives into senseless oblivion and is powered by pithy dialogues, the stunt-filled climax showing the showdown between Bachchan and Prabhas saves the film. Seasoned actor Kamal Haasan as the powerful despotic ruler and Shobana as the matriarch Mariam from the rebel group leave an impression in an otherwise loud and psychedelic film.

Padukone is gloriously under-utilized in this film. She’s on call to look perennially stricken and scared. While she occupies a wide berth in terms of screen time, her turn as the pregnant woman on the run is hardly riveting. None of the characters, barring Bachchan’s role, has been fleshed out.

Watch this film if you are someone who’s drawn to superhero films minus any soul.

Gulf News rating: 

Film: Kalki 2898 AD (Hindi)

Director: Nag Ashwin

Cast: Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Prabhas, Kamal Haasan, Saswata Chatterjee, Shobhana, Anna Ben, Mrunal Thakur

Stars: 2.5 out of 5