Director Pa Ranjith has done a solid service to the film industry with Kaala. With Superstar Rajinikanth breathing life into his vision, the young director has made a ballsy attempt to bust a number of stereotypes in mainstream films. From the representation of slum dwellers and their everyday problems to highlighting aspirations and thinking of today’s women, Ranjith has made a remarkable statement.
Through Kaala, Ranjith has also busted a series of clichés that were synonyoums with Rajinikanth.
1) Rajinikanth speaks of the real political issue
Rajinikanth has discussed politics in his films for over two decades now. In all these years, he made generic statements about corruption, problems of poor and farmer issues. The actor also maintained that he would not run behind power and position in politics but will not turn his back on the opportunity if it presents itself. (He made good on his words by taking the political plunge after the passing of Jayalalithaa left a power vacuum in the state). But, he never really discussed the specifics of problems faced by poor or backward classes. This in spite of him playing slum dweller or a lower-caste man in most of his films. He just stuck to playing a superficial hero from the weaker section, who took on the most powerful in the society. It was all about one man’s courage and heroics, never about the community he represented with his characters. In Kaala, Ranjith made him voice the real problems of Dalits and the demeaning ways they are exploited by those in power.
2) Gave us a progressive Rajinikanth
Another important Ranjith contribution to the film industry was playing up the progressive hero in Rajinikanth. For years, Rajinikanth has given lessons on how a woman should behave. Remember the popular monologue from Padayappa, ‘Pombala, pombalaiya irukkanum’ (A woman should be like a woman). His descriptions of what makes a perfect Indian woman played into the hands of patriarchy. Be it Kabali or Kaala, Ranjith had written women roles that were opposite to ‘perfect woman qualities’ preached by Rajinikanth’s films. While we had Yogi (Sai Dhansika) playing a gangster and saving Kabali’s life, in Kaala Puyal (Anjali Patil) chooses to go with bravery and honour as against ‘chastity’ and ‘purity.’ Zareena (Huma Qureshi) talks back at Rajinikanth’s Kaala and refuses to buy into arguments (well, at least initially) but she is not portrayed as an arrogant and narcissistic woman, who looks down on men. Her role is presented as a well-read, well-informed and opinionated woman with rich global experience and noble intentions.
In another film, she would have been the reincarnation of Nilambari from Padaiyappa. Selvi (Easwari Rao) is a usual nagging wife but the beauty lies in the nuances of her character. She is very supportive of her husband, ridicules her children heavily, has a great sense of humor and a high degree of self-respect. When Kaala makes her feel insecure by meeting Zareena, she also threatens him to go back to her hometown and meet her ex-flame. And you have Kaala asking men not to expect only women to cut vegetables. How often do we see such assertive women rejecting all conventional ideas of ‘perfect women’ in our mainstream films?
3) Hierarchy – Even Rajinikanth is not above the system
Kaala keeps defeating Haridev Abhyanka (Nana Patekar), an archetypal fascist bigot who wants to rid central Mumbai of urban poor, who he considers dirty. No matter how powerful Kaala, the moment he steps out of Dhavrai, he is put in his place, thanks to the system. In a sequence that plays out at a police station, Kaala is forced to touch the feet of Haridada and concede defeat. He is made to sit on the ground during his conversation with Haridada demonstrating their position in the society. Kaala may fight back and challenge Haridevi’s position from where he is, but he cannot rise above the social stratification overnight or in the course of a song. Has there been a situation before, where Rajinikanth’s character could not have established his supremacy before his mortal opponents?
4) One man cannot bring in a revolution
Kaala the film deals with realistic problems with dollops of Rajinikanth-ism. Kaala himself has been the victim of exploitation by those in power and he has been fighting for Dalits all his life. What Rajinikanth’s Kaala managed to do is just defend his people but he was individually incapable to effect a real change. What at the end he managed to achieve is to become a seed for a revolution, to inspire people to fight for their own rights. It was opposite to the Rajinikanth-ism we have grown used to over the years. It was always Rajinikanth who revamped the system single-handedly.