Let’s get this straight. Darbar is an out and out RAJINIKANTH film, so you should leave logic behind. Bullets advance towards the actor, but the moment you expect he will be stopped dead in his tracks, he gets ten times stronger and rises like a phoenix. Well, this AR Murugadoss-directorial has all the must-haves of a quintessential Rajinikanth film—an energetic opening number sung by SPB, signature moves of Superstar wiping out bad guys, trademark stylistics: his sunglasses, animated dance steps and one-liners. Darbar begins in Mumbai, and we get newspaper clippings calling Aaditya Arunasalam (Rajinikanth) a “mad cop”. This guy wants to make the city drug-free, which leads him to conduct search operations at specific locations to nab peddlers. The prime accused and kingpin of the racket gets caught, but you get a twist. AR Murugadoss wants to be as contemporary and relevant as possible, and weaves a story around “the increasing usage of drugs among youngsters and sex trafficking”. After all, what’s a masala movie without socially-relevant issues, you tell me?
The 70-year-old Rajinikanth shows the same spirit he displayed aeons back—it’s nothing but sheer magic that we have been witnessing over four decades and counting. The first half of Darbar keeps us engaged. Some great effort has gone into fleshing out the emotional beats. We get a fantastic Nivetha Thomas as Aaditya Arunasalam’s daughter Valli. Every time the film shifts into emotional gear, Rajinikanth comes into his own. Many scenes warm our hearts, and some others exercise our laugh muscles. We get believable solid father-daughter moments. In the second half, we get introduced to Hari Chopra (a weakly-written character, played by Suniel Shetty). But Darbar gets going—it does—when you don’t prod much into “logic”. The action portions work because the technical team knows how to ‘shoot’ and ‘cut’ them, and also because AR Murugadoss wants to show Rajinikanth as a completely convincing action hero. As Darbar progresses, we get more insights into the twists and turns (read: a long tiring flashback).
Here is the thing when you make a RAJINIKANTH film. As a director, you pay tribute to the past—have references from his earlier blockbusters—(If you listen to Chumma Kizhi song, you’ll know what I mean) when you don’t necessarily need to. (Pa Ranjith made Kabali and Kaala without the typical quirks of Rajinikanth.) Further, there’s a pressure that you cater to those speculating the man’s political career. Even though Darbar is not a political film, you get Murugadoss’s intention and what he tries to convey. Aaditya Arunasalam says, “mudiyadhundradha mudikkardhu dhaan en pazhakkam”—we know what he is hinting at. (Read: Rajinikanth makes the impossible, possible. Age is just a number. He will win at any cost; because he is RAJINIKANTH, boss). At every situation, Murugadoss remarks how Rajinikanth is this ideal man, “whose calculations never go wrong”.
Nayanthara appears as Lilly. Thank God, we don’t get a conventional “love track”. Nayanthara looks gorgeous. She wears pretty saris and dances in a song gracefully. That’s all about it. Like any other Rajinikanth film, Darbar has space only for Rajinikanth and nobody else. You shouldn’t ask more questions. It is how it is. And, that’s how it should be. I like how Rajinikanth plays his age in Darbar. (There are no embarrassing songs shot abroad with girls).
Here comes the most problematic aspect of Darbar—Suniel Shetty. There’s no character development and pace is generated more through editing. For the amount of hype the makers created about getting the Bollywood actor on board, the output is frustratingly mediocre. He is not as powerful as his character was perceived to be. I think Shankar is clever in this regard. Now, I understand why he chose RAJINIKANTH as the villain opposite RAJINIKANTH in Enthiran. (Who is pitted against whom is very important). Baashha became a blockbuster because it had a powerhouse performer like Raghuvaran. Petta wasn’t satisfying because it had the same problem. Darbar could have easily been a Thuppakki. But the narration falls flat in many places. We get a fistfight between Aaditya Arunasalam and Hari Chopra, towards the end, and don’t even ask why. If there’s a saving grace, that’s RAJINIKANTH. Otherwise, it’s the same battle scenes and the same escapes. I was expecting that I would see something along the lines of Ramana, because AR Murugadoss is a talented filmmaker. For all the novelty that Ghajini had, you sure have expectations, right? (Why Ghajini and Ramana because they are my favourites of the lot).
Anirudh Ravichander’s foot-tapping numbers in Darbar could have been shot better. The writing is problematic here and there (logic, once again) — for instance, portions involving Valli in the hospital. Overall, Darbar is strictly for Rajinikanth fans, who will never get tired of watching “Thalaivar” dance and fight on the screen.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines