If there is one thing Rajinikanth is willingly identified with (aside from the actor’s irrevocable star power), it is his whistle-worthy entrance sequences, which almost unfailingly resounds with a roaring fandom.
Muthu (1995) gallops away in a horse-carriage which readily sprints to his cue, Padayappa (1999) valiantly rescues a serpent and Baashha (1995) is seen striding down a flight of stairs, donned in a suit of silk. The ageing Kabaleeswaran, however, is quietly engrossed in a copy of ‘My Father Baliah’, before walking away from prison after 25 years. He might tread away in a three-piece suit, coolers sitting perfectly on his nose, drowning us in a rush of familiarity. But the Rajini in Kabali is nothing like you have ever seen before.
Kabali tells the story of a veteran don (Rajini) in Malaysia, who seamlessly fights for the rights of Tamil Malaysians, fighting a gang headed by the ridiculously Tamil spewing Tony Lee (Winston Chao). An evident ode to the actor’s earlier gangster films- Billa and Baashha, Kabali, is a do-gooder who doesn’t mind taking out thugs with a dagger or a pistol (which he slides off his coat with suave) for his community.
While director Pa. Ranjith attempts to thread the storyline with a subject that hasn’t been explored before, the film somehow lacks lustre. Bogged down by a narrative that loses pace, a few scenes into the film, performances keep the film going. Radhika Apte’s effortless rendering of Kabali’s wife, makes us yearn for Kumudhavalli, a little bit more, every time she comes on screen.
However, Rajini’s final transition into the ageing artiste that he is, is what Kabali shines bright with. He might be slow on his feet, his shoes lagging with every ‘tak-tak’ clatter. He might not be the agile Manik Baashha which we all hoped for. Instead he is the placid Kabaleeswaran who still gives us the chills every time he utters ‘Magizhchi’.