It isn't so much a matter of discussion why one decides to watch Kabali—for the snazzy superstar. An immaculate teaser where Rajinikanth took a dig at the usual rhetoric of mainstream Tamil cinema heightened the exhilaration, pointing to a theory that maybe 'Thalaivar' was up to something completely different here. The man thought to be responsible for that was Pa. Ranjith, the director who gave the eponymous character the slick gray shades of a gangster; one we hoped would play a different game of 'gangsterhood'.
The first two minutes of the movie has the whole police squad of Malaysia discussing the outcome of releasing the aged don, Kabaleeshawaran, for the fear that he would be on revenge rampage. This seemingly sets the tone and the air is ridden with suspense. In walks Kabaleeshwaran out of the jails of Malaysia, to the people who have always backed him. Shortly, we get that roar of a dialogue that we were waiting for, while Kabali swings on wooden logs set against the roof, kicking the first of the villains into the pool, making a splash right away.
But going forward, what we actually get to see is a love story unfolding—a younger Kabali, who fought against the unequal treatment measured out to Malaysian Tamilians and who was hoisted up for bringing 'change' in a stifling work environment, and the story of how that led him to lend his voice to the underprivileged, to finally becoming a don of sorts. His love for the woman he married, who backed him through sickness and health, becomes a recurring thought after he's back.
Kabali's ascendance to power is not something we see and get a feel of, it's a fleeting story of tremendous success that is writ large on the faces that look at him and idolize him. He's still the superstar alright, but it would have been a satiating experience if his journey was something we could witness. We are not opposed to Kabali quashing villains, who are a boring combination of no wit and no brain, and who cannot see a plan through, but it would help to see at least a bigger plot, larger consequences to the events that unraveled in his past. The fizzling away of an issue like the one faced by the Tamilians in Malaysia doesn't offer any cheer either.
The plot is severely punctured in terms of orchestrating violence; dons who jump into the picture out of nowhere, who point their guns at their prey and then seem to engage a long-ish thought for about 5 seconds before firing away, giving the hero ample time to snatch the weapon away.
Rajini is graceful at 65 and takes 'Magizhchi' to new levels. Radhika Apte does a great job as well, going from a 20-something dotting wife to a close to 50-year-old. Dhansika and Attakathi Dinesh are brighter figures in the film one can fixate on (decidedly averting glances from the bland villains). The 'neruppu' that sparked off of Pa. Ranjith's Madras and the stark maturity of emotions in Attakathi were factors that had the world perch their expectations so high for Kabali. Sadly, the details that Ranjith had so meticulously arranged in his other films were not followed through in Kabali.
However, the person who gets to sit in a push-back chair and swivel it around to display a winning smile is musician Santhosh Narayanan. What words fail to say, his strings speak with ease. As for the Kabali swag, all we can say to the superstar is, shine on you crazy diamond!
Onmanorama rating: 2.5/5