1. First things first, if you go in to AR Murugadoss’ Darbar expecting a pure Rajini fan-fest over anything else, chances are, you might end up feeling a tad bit disappointed. Because the director’s primary focus here is to deliver a strong drama, driven by the father-daughter story at its core.
2. By which, I mean that it operates more in the melodramatic Viswasam zone than the other recent Rajini films like Petta or Kaala. This also means that Darbar is more about personal vengeance than about a project that needs his undertaking. Of course, topics like the increasing drug usage among youngsters and sex trafficking get discussed, but these are more details and background information rather than major plot points.
3. The film opens in Mumbai to newspaper clippings reporting the out of control madness of its police commissioner Aditya Arunasalam, who goes on a rampage killing half a dozen people on the same night. And to be honest, the ‘hero entry’ and the subsequent fight sequence, felt quite disappointing despite a few interesting ideas that it came with.
4. Darbar’s plot too isn’t particularly fresh with the film’s general beats getting revealed very early on as we move into two long flashbacks. So it quickly becomes more about “how these things are going to happen”, rather than “what really is going to happen”.
5. Add Nayanthara’s Lilly to Keerthi Suresh’s Nila and it becomes obvious that Murugadoss has run out of ideas on what he must do with his heroines. Lilly is pretty, dances well in songs and is a “pillar of support” for the hero, but nothing more. More than their “love track”, it’s what Aditya does in the process of this love track that makes the film’s first half a lot of fun.
6. Which brings me to some of the trademark Murugadoss’ concepts that sets this film apart, even within its generic cop drama mould. Like the complete 180 he pulls off within the classic “deathbed” scene and a nice twist towards to end.
7. We see traces of Thuppaki and even Anjaan in Santosh Sivan’s choice of colours throughout the film, especially in the way he paints Mumbai, but some of the film’s best shots come in a particularly cool-looking fight scene set in a railway station. Anirudh delivers yet again with some great background scores that really elevate seemingly plain scenes. And despite having a killer track in ‘Chumma Kizhi’, its picturisation felt like it really didn’t do justice to it.
8. But the biggest weakness of the film HAS to be villain(s), and this is a major problem here because the film places of a lot of trust on these characters to deliver. Yet all of them (Suneil Shetty especially), despite looking like variations of Ranveer Singh on any given day, come off as hollow caricatures in the all these major moments. This is a shame because Murugadoss wrote two great villains in his two previous films Spyder and Sarkar.
9. Rajinikanth, of course, delivers style with such ease that there are scenes that work only because of something he does or the way he says something. He’s best in the comedy and emotional scenes, even though you see him stretch himself in scenes that need him to really explode with emotions like anger.
10. But beyond his signature style or the Murugadoss concepts, it’s a film that works wonderfully as a touching father-daughter drama. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Nivetha Thomas who really sells her character, especially in a wonderful scene where Aditya is shown his place and reminded of his age. Which is a really interesting space for a Rajinikanth film to reach and that’s also the reason why the revenge part of it works so well. Darbar may not always work but it’s certainly a film that tries, with loads to like.