The Rajini movie experience and a short spoiler-free review of Kabali

Thanks to the Bay Area Rajini Fans Facebook group, I got the opportunity to go see Superstar Rajinikanth’s latest blockbuster, Kabali at the premiere show in Towne 3 Cinemas in San Jose, CA. Here are my late night, sleep addled thoughts on it.

The Rajini movie experience is something unique that has to be experienced to be believed. It is unlike anything else. Across the world, I would argue that Rajinikanth is the only star who commands an almost religious following, especially on the eve of his movie releases. His movies are so few and far in-between that fans eagerly await every morsel of information from that rare original poster during the shooting of the movie to the launch of the soundtrack and then the trailer. Irrespective of how the movies fare, the experience itself is a celebration of the unabashed love the crores of fans have for their beloved superstar.

As a huge transplanted fan of the super star, I often long for the experience of watching a Rajini movie on the first day- something I had the luxury of growing up, year after year. The last time I watched a Rajini movie on the first day, it was the incredibly enjoyable Enthiran (Robot). I could not make it to Lingaa and wasn’t keen on watching Kochadaiyaan. Which brings me to Kabali.

kabali

Kabali got me excited from the get-go. I have not seen Pa.Ranjith’s movies. So I was unaware of what he brings to the table. But the prospect of Rajini playing his age alone is worth the price of admission ($25, no less). Leading up to today, the incredible fans have kept the expectation sky-high. A stylishly cut trailer with an excellent BGM also helped the cause. A few committed folks took great pains to organize the showing, printed unique commemorative tickets and had a streamlined process for fans to be part of the experience. Hats off to their organization. It was super well done.

Bay Area experienceI got to the theater, an hour or so before the show. There were a bunch of festivities planned and it was super fun watching folks just let it go! Never the one to dive in to a dance unfortunately, I was content being part of it and watching so many fans have the time of their lives. If you havent been part of a Rajini movie premiere show festivities, you truly have missed something. Endhiran 2.0 is on its way. That would be an excellent opportunity to make that happen. This one was fantastic and so much fun to watch in person and take in the thrill of the Rajini experience.

 

Kabali

I have penned down a short and simple spoiler-free review of the movie below if you are interested. I will tell you this- if you can watch it in the theater, just go for it. It is worth it. I am not sure how many more opportunities we will get to watch a new Rajini movie on the silver screen. While we have that privilege, I would encourage one and all to experience the Rajini magic on screen.

Kabali experience

Spoiler-free mini review of Kabali
Here is my super short, spoiler free review of the movie. Let us get the broad feedback out of the way.

The movie is pretty good. I enjoyed it and don’t regret one bit paying $25 and heading to the theater on a busy work weekday.  It is not what I expected and it is definitely not your classic Rajini movie in many ways. Yes, it has his signature style in old and new ways. And his charisma continues to thrill as it did, 30 years ago. But this is a movie driven by a lot of emotional underpinnings and Rajini emotes, more so that I have ever seen him do. And he does a fantastic job. He is ably supported by a bunch of character actors none of whom has a standout role but has something to contribute to the plot. Overall, it is a movie worth watching. I typically watch 1-2 Indian movies every year, if that. Using that slot for Kabali was a good decision. Rajini continues to appeal to the child in me.

The good stuff

  • Rajinikanth – this man can do it all and in a way that so many others try and fail miserably.
  • A bunch of supporting characters who move the story along.
  • An actual plot. Yes, it is not deep or complex but there is a story to keep things moving along.
  • Watching it in a theater filled with screaming fans.
  • Being part of the excitement leading up to the movie, thanks again to the BayArea Rajini Fans Facebook group.

The not-so-good stuff

  • The pacing sags for about 30 minutes midway through the movie- leading up to and during the India segment. This segment could have been trimmed by 20 or so minutes.
  • Every once in a while, the screenplay needs a little push to keep rolling. The director definitely should have tightened it.
  • The violence. It is the bloodiest movie of Rajini I have ever seen and that part disturbs me. As a parent in these dark times, I abhor violence, even in movies. Yes, I understand that a gangster movie leans towards gore as part of its realism pitch but still too much blood.
  • This is not a movie to take kids. Most certainly not. I have never recommended an Indian movie for kids and this movie will miss that bar by a large margin.

Rajinikanth matters. Here is why.

rajini
rajini

As many of my regular readers would have observed by now, some of my recent posts have taken on quite a bit of nostalgia. This is not a blatant attempt at capturing attention and thus page views. I do not make money when you click the link and see my post. As the world starts changing rapidly, nostalgia offers an umbrella of solace to those not completely at home with the new. Now I understand why my father and uncles live so much in the past when it comes to music and cinema. The cinema of our childhood offers an innocence that we believe is lost today. With every change of guard, a little bit of that innocence gets chipped away. It is with that perspective that I write about a very integral part of my childhood memories, Thalaivar and the only Superstar I will ever know, Rajinikanth. What better time than on the eve of his birthday (Dec 12).

So where do I start?. My earliest memory of Rajinikanth was “Podhuvaga en manasu” from Murattu Kalai. The song was a big hit and I was 3 at that time. An age when larger than life role models are easy to pick up. In hind sight, this was the beginning of Rajini the Superstar. Until then, he was supposedly a director’s actor. An infinitely moldable character who brought a searing intensity be it as a hero or as a villain.

Here is Rajini, the romantic hero.

And here he is, the consummate villain.

I was always a MGR kinda guy. Less drama. More action and fun. Rajini represented all that and more. After Murattu Kalai, Rajini the actor morphed into Rajini, the Star and soon to be Superstar. There are those who argue that a great actor’s skill was shoved to the background in this process of this transformation. But I disagree. For pure histrionics, we had and will always have the multifaceted and multitalented Kamalhassan. Kamal will always be the master of the art. Rajini will be remember as the one who took the art to the common man and made him believe he too could be a star.

Rajini offered the masses clean cinema with a strong sense of what was right. But he was careful not to cultivate MGR’s holier than thou image in cinema. Instead he was the original rebel. The dude who cared a damn but still mattered. His style will warrant its own post. And there are tons of Youtube videos dedicated to that. Ill point you to a three part collection in Youtube that captures some of Rajini’s best moments in cinema. Feel free to search for more.

Over the years, Rajini has excelled in delivering family friendly cinema with the right dose of humor, enough thrills and spills and more importantly, a treasure trove of punch dialogues that are enshrined in the annals of Tamil cinema. Every movie of Rajini is filled with its share of punch dialogues that at their time fueled the public imagination to dramatic heights. You have to have experienced it to believe it. Case to point, Alex Pandian in Moondru Mugam.

Rarely are Rajini’s movies boring or dull. Even some of his less popular ones are watchable because of his sense of comedic timing and dialogue delivery. He chooses his directors and scripts in a way that played to his strengths. He represents the essense of cinema as a medium of entertainment. And continues to do so. His most recent release Enthiran shattered box office records, all of 37 years after his first movie. And he plays the hero in Enthiran. In his 2007 release, Sivaji he enthralls as a bald headed alter ego for which he shaved completely- something most stars today would dare not do. And it all stems from his respect for the medium and what it has given him. Most stars today think of themselves as superstars before they are 10 movies old. Rajini after over 150 movies continues to be a director’s actor driven by his humility and respect for the art.


What Rajinikanth also gives me are milestones to my school and college life. His movies define major events in my life. Every Rajinikanth movie to me and to countless fans are associated with times in their life. And his movies make for great life bookmarks. I remember standing in a massive line to get tickets to Dalapathi at Archana-Darsana. I remember watching Veera multiple times because I fell in love with “Madathile“. One of those times was after lying through my teeth to family and heading to Jyothi in Mount Road, Chennai where a massive 30 feet billboard welcomed me to the movie. I remember howling in laughter for Mannan and screaming when Rajini says “Adhu seri, adhu seri” in “Adikudhu Kuliru“. And then there was Annamalai. Scene after scene filled with punch dialogues echoing in my head even today. Who can forget “Dey Ashok” or the auction scene or the unforgettable association election scene. The association election scene oozes style unparalleled that I feel like whistling as I watch it today on youtube.

And for most stars, Annamalai would be their ultimate style statement. In the case of Rajinikanth, he one upped it with Baasha in 1995. I was in my 11th standard and remember the hype and hysteria for the movie. And the experience is something remarkable in the theater. When the goons bash up Baasha’s family outside his house and the man reveals himself, the entire theater erupts. No actor can and will ever deliver that kind of feeling in a theater. Who can forget the scenes between Padayappa and Ramya Krishnan as a brilliant Neelambhari in Padayappa?


Even today, Enthiran and Sivaji pack more muscle and fun than any other offering from today’s crop of superstars. The Rajini aura continues unabated. And on his birthday, I am reminded of how much he matters to me and to millions of fans around the world. To all of us, he is the simple star. The one who can do no wrong and who makes the world easier to live in. And as long as he is around, things just seem perfect.

As a parting video, watch Rajini at his villainous best.

Happy Birthday Thalaiva.