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If you’re holding an umbrella, you are likely to use the unthreatening black contraption to ward off the rain.

But if it’s in the hands of iconic superstar Rajinikanth in his latest warlord drama Kaala, that seemingly harmless and useful contraption is transformed into a lethal weapon of mass destruction.

In what can be one of the most stylised action sequences shot in the rain, we are shown how our swashbuckling, lionised hero, dressed in an all-black ensemble, can decimate dozens of unwashed ruffians charging at him with a flourish. Kaala has a string of such slick action sequences that turn killing and maiming into a work of art. But what elevates the swish adrenalin-charged shots is the magnetic charisma of Rajinikanth, who plays the saviour of the slum-dwellers of Dharavi in Mumbai. 

With his salt and pepper hair, trimmed silver beard and sunglasses, Rajinikanth is the proverbial poster boy for revolutionary chic in Kaala. He slays it in the titular role of a visionary who lives and dies for his beliefs. The larger-than-life patriarch is staunchly idealistic and is willing to die fighting social injustice.

Directed by Pa Ranjith, Kaala chronicles the life and times of Karikaalan who is leader of the slum-dwellers living in the heart of Mumbai. He’s fiercely idealistic and doesn’t shy away from taking on corrupt politicians and builders who are intent on exploiting the residents of Dharavi for their personal greed.

The film is a portrait of how a shrewd politician, played impeccably by Bollywood actor Nana Patekar, lets his greed and hunger for absolute power dictate his governance. He’s unadulterated evil and Patekar revels in the mean-spirited role.

The verbal sparring between the menacing Patekar, who has a penchant for wearing white — traditionally a colour that’s symbolic of purity — and Rajinikanth is pure gold. Their face-off isn’t your crass duel of empty threats and words. Patekar — with his steely persona — holds his own against Rajinikanth who has mastered the art of having the last word in any conversation, confrontational or not.

The first half moves at a good pace as we are introduced into Karikaalan’s large family and how he became an influential patriarch and Dharavi’s warlord. He’s equally adept in the comical scenes, but he never lets us forget that on-screen histrionics are his biggest strength.

Huma Qureshi plays Zareena, his ex-flame who returns to Dharavi as an activist. Sparks fly when the two ex-lovers meet and it’s a joy to watch them being unsure around each other. It’s comical and they do look adorable, but these are just frills. The core of the story is a showcase of the politics of dirty governance and the decay among politicians.

What lets the film down is its tedious length. At 180-plus minute length, the revolution carried out by the poor gets tiring. The story is also predictable, but what saves it from disgrace is Rajinikanth’s roaring screen presence and bombastic dialogues that prop up the action drama. The acting by the peripheral cast — especially the actors who played non-speaking parts — was gratingly loud and exaggerated. Being subtle is an unfamiliar acting trait for the collective cast of Kaala.

Music by Santhosh Narayan is interestingly interspersed with ghetto-style rappers using music as a tool to voice their angst. The action sequences and the destruction unleashed by Patekar and his cronies as they engineer riots and explosions in Dharavi is shockingly gruesome.

While this revolutionary epic that’s largely predictable would have benefited hugely from tighter editing, the hyper-stylised climax may appease the Rajinikanth fan in you.

Watch Kaala if you want to see the superstar — who recently joined politics — save the day in true superhero style.


Check it out!

  • Film: Kaala
  • Director: Pa Ranjith
  • Cast: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar and Huma Qureshi
  • Stars: 3 out of 5
  • Running time: 185 minutes