Kaala Karikaalan movie cast: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi, Manikandan, Samuthirakani, Eswari Rao, Dileepan, Anjali Patil, Sayaji Shinde, Pankaj Tripathi
Kaala Karikaalan movie director: Pa Ranjith
Kaala Karikaalan movie rating: Three stars
Kaala Karikaalan is a companion piece to the 2016 Kabali (also directed by Pa. Ranjith) and a natural progression for the superstar-of-superstars on the cusp of a political career. It is also a much better film.
Pa Ranjith’s sensibility and Rajini’s charisma work together to give us something that’s gone missing from big-budget starry tentpoles: a strong feel for the underclass as the main focus. It is also a comment on racism (‘uska rang kaala tha, iss liye uska naam Kaala rakha’), and minority-ism (Kaala is Tamil, Muslim and Dalit), and he and his people are quite clearly The Other, outsiders in Marathi-dominated Mumbai, even though they’ve made it their home for so many decades.
The burden of so many ‘isms’ does make the film a bit muddled and slack, especially the first half, which clumps about. The only thing that keeps us from getting restive is the way Dharavi, Mumbai’s largest slum, is laid out for us: it is Kaala’s home, it is where he rules, and it is under siege. The fight to save Dharavi becomes the central conflict, between the all-black-robed Kaala, and the pristine-white-clad Haridev Abhyankar aka Hari Dada (Patekar), the chief of the ruling right-wing party. It is the fight between right and wrong, good and evil, Ram and Raavan, old values privileging community and modernity defined by grasping consumerism (another ‘ism’), the individual and the collective.
I could go on. Suffice it to say that Kaala tells us just how high the stakes are, and how much weight and immediacy those stakes have. And that is its power. Rampant, greedy destruction of spaces which have been home to the poor and the dispossessed is going on unchecked all around us, and if we keep our eyes closed, something we, the urban haves with our shiny malls and multiplexes, are so good at, it will take us over too.
What works for the film is the way it smartly flips around the stories of the all-black Kaala-Raavan, who is, underneath it all, a good man, and the all-white Hari-Ram (smart choice of name), who is a cold, egotistic snatcher of other people’s possessions, and intent upon making Mumbai ‘swachch’. Rajinikanth’s familiar swagger is leavened by a touch of tenderness (his portions with his wife, played beautifully by Rao, are marvellous; the parts with a former lover, played by Qureshi, don’t fit as well, but are still useful in showing a tender, playful side to Kaala). Qureshi is also given a pertinent line, when she declares that silencing the right to question is ‘fascism’. Sounds familiar?
Kaala (Karikaalan is an add-on to the title in the Hindi dubbed version) is named after the titular character, but it is not as worshipful of Rajini as his other films have been. Kaala is not wholly in the service of the mythic Rajini: yes, there are superbly staged fight scenes which are strictly for fans, and enjoyable for the rest of us, because who doesn’t like one man taking on a bunch of baddies in the cause of righteousness? But this Kaala is human, and that makes him instantly more relatable than the man who tosses cigarettes into his mouth without once dropping them.
As don and messiah, Rajinikanth is, of course, the film, but the man who almost takes it away from him is the magnificent Patekar, togged out in straggly moustache, blindingly white, cracklingly starched kurta pyjama, and a smile that belongs more on a crocodile. Finally, a worthy movie villain, and such a relief: only when a bad guy raises the bar, can the good man come into his own.
‘Bombay, Bambai, Mumbai, hamaari thi, hamaari hai’, intones Hari. Kaala-Rajini stands up, stands tall, and saves the meek, a perfect political manifesto, both on and off screen. The end note is triumphant, and the best climactic sequence I’ve seen in a while. But it is also cautionary. Till when?