Director Pa Ranjith has his own stamp. He’s known for being a strong political filmmaker, who gives the marginalized sections of Tamil society a voice through his work. Over three films, he has established a unique form and garnered a loyal fan base. In Kaala, he makes ‘land’ the core of the plot and bases his story around the Dharavi slums. His anti-Hindutva political ideology is also slotted into the story – Ranjith glorifies Raavan from the classic Ramayana mythology, with Rajinikanth personifying the character. We can also clearly infer the politician(s) that Ranjith is targeting, through Nana Patekar’s character.
Plot – On one hand we have the passionate Dharavi slum dwellers led by the invincible ‘Kaala’ Karikalan (Rajinikanth). On the other, we have Mumbai’s kingpin Hari ‘Dada’ (Nana Patekar) who wants to take over their land, cleanse it of all its impurities and exploit it commercially. Hari equates the colour black to dirt, while Karikalan and his clan own it, their skin tone and their slum land with pride. The face-off between these two mighty adversaries is the crux of Kaala.
- This is the best work that we have seen from Rajinikanth in a while; he plays a character his age once again. His white beard contrasts with his dark hair and moustache, making for a terrific look. He not only exhibits his usual crowd-pleasing histrionics, but also subtle nuances. The long episode at the police station with the star in an inebriated state and the preceding ‘Thanga Sela’ song sequence, which is like a modern day ‘Kicku Yeruthe’ from his Padayappa, provide top-notch entertainment. Rajinikanth has an immense screen presence, making it hard to look away whenever he is on screen.
- Fans are sure to love Kaala after the underwhelming Kabali from the same actor-director combination. It is far more engaging and ‘Rajini-friendly’ compared to Kabali.
- Aided by cinematographer G.Murali and art director Ramalingam, Ranjith has captured the Dharavi slums and the lifestyle of its inhabitants in a vibrant way.
- A lot of the other characters are memorable, thanks to the importance that Ranjith has given their parts. Among them, Eswari Rao (as Selvi, Kaala’s boisterous wife), Samuthirakani (Kaala’s confidante), Dileepan (Kaala’s aggressive elder son), Manikandan (Kaala’s youngest son and a non-violent activist), Huma Qureshi (as Zareena, Kaala’s former love interest and an activist), Anjali Patel (a fiery activist) and Aravind Akash (an honest cop interestingly named Sivaji Rao Gaekwad) leave their mark. It’s uncommon to see so many supporting actors command attention in a Rajini film.
- Nana Patekar’s commanding screen presence makes him a formidable antagonist. His dialogues are in a mix of broken Tamil, Hindi and Marathi; he has also dubbed on his own. An actor of Nana’s caliber pitted against the Superstar results in unforgettable confrontation scenes. The pre-interval scene that takes place in Kaala’s locality (with the electrifying ‘Nikkal Nikkal’ augmenting the impact) and another one at Hari Dada’s residence are sure to thrill the crowd.
- Composer Santhosh Narayanan sets a unique rhythm for some of the sequences and in a typical manner, has his fun with electric guitars for the ‘mass’ moments and action scenes featuring the Superstar. The signature theme that plays for Hari Dada is attention-grabbing, while the rap numbers ‘Poraaduvom’ and ‘Theru Vilakku’ – that are a part of the album – have earned a cult following.
- The illustrations and sketches used to present Kaala and Zareena in their youth are wonderfully done. We get to see the Rajinikanth of yore and this sequence will be a lovely little throwback for his fans.
- The scenes of revolt and protests will resonate with the Tamil audience and seem topical, thanks to the events happening in the state over the past few years. Ranjith has smartly incorporated such recent occurrences into the film.
- It’s clear that Ranjith has gone about the casting process meticulously. Not a single cast member falters.
- The first half, which features nostalgic romance portions with Huma Qureshi and Rajinikanth, set to the melodious ‘Kannamma’ number, suffers from a strong Kabali hangover (as ‘Maya Nadhi’ was used in that film similarly). This subplot moves at a leisurely pace and robs the movie of momentum. The film’s runtime is a generous 2 hours 45 minutes.
- Following some uncertainty about Kaala’s whereabouts, the film’s final sequence, beautifully shot in red, black and blue by G.Murali and set to the blazing ‘Katravai Patravai’ number, seemed quite convenient and deliberately gallery-pleasing. There was a similar sequence with colours, which worked far better, in the director’s earlier film Madras.
- The much expected ‘Kya Reh Settinga?’ moment garnered a lot of pre-release hype, but it’s important to note that the Superstar doesn’t do much in this action sequence. Instead, it’s his son (Dileepan) who does most of the work.
- The VFX for the pre-interval rain fight was tacky and looked glaringly obvious.
- The film’s arc is quite predictable and there aren’t any surprises in the screenplay. It’s a tried-and-tested commercial formula dished out in Ranjith’s typical political style.
Final Word: Kaala is an engaging political mass entertainer from Ranjith. He utilises Rajini’s strengths efficiently, much to the relief of the Superstar’s fans.