Charged with metaphors depicting the class conflicts that underlie the fabric between the Dharavian suburbia and rest of political Mumbai, Kaala is perhaps Pa Ranjith’s most ambitious venture yet. While most find its uncanny middle-ground position as neither a masala film that is expected of typical Rajnikanth movies, or an entirely social-cause driven project that is expected of Ranjith, I for one find its cinematic agnosticism highly rebellious and highly infectious, one that kept me gripped and thoroughly in rapture. A stellar BGM that drove me off my seat, the typical punch-dialogues and hand-swishes, the atypical political undertones, this was a movie that seemed to not align itself with either side, and perhaps that is its greatest strength. Weaving together threads of caste politics, religious rifts, land disputes, with the Hindu mythos of Ramaa and Ravana and the iconic Tamil ethos that Rajnikanth wields with his expected-of charisma, Kaala serves to drive a point first, and in its pursuit of doing so entertains quite emphatically. The symbolisms employed are quite clear: white/black, elite/proletariat, power/justice. Veiled is the Tamil pride that comes with the linguistic differences that is subsumed under the grander scheme of caste conflict, and it was pleasing to see Ranjith not dwell on it too much. However, the movie does seem to stir up a lot of existing anti-centrist sentiments through the employment of a nationalist hindutva-aligning antagonist in the form of an amazing Nana Patekar, who is uncannily similar to several political leaders of ours in his ideologies and techniques. Whether this is intended or not isn’t too pertinent, but it does add another dimension to the politically charged nature of the film. Subverting the widely accepted tale of good versus bad in the form of Rama and Ravana, Ranjith manages to invert the story on its head, or at the very least offer room for interpretation which was intriguing to experience. Also wonderful was seeing Rajnikanth in many ways accept a role that requires him to act his age (albeit some unbelievable stunts, but hey, it’s a Rajnikanth film) and give room for Ranjith to explore and propagate his own social and political predilections. Kaala is weak, Kaala is strong, Kaala feels, Kaala bleeds, Kaala loses, Kaala wins. Ranjith and Rajni seem to dance with the power available to them, and what is left to us is a carefully crafted, beautifully choreographed sequence of plots and subplots that all integrate for the most part well into the narrative. The final scene was undoubtedly my favourite, where Nana Patekar’s character is smeared in black, symbolically brought down to the level of Kaala and his people. The explosion of colour and their metaphorical messages that ensue ensured I left the theatre wishing I could watch the whole film all over again, just for that one scene and that eargasmic theme song that plays in the background.
The homage to the baptism scene in The Godfather was the cherry on top of the “black”-forest that I devoured so gratefully, screaming and cheering at every skull-bashing, umbrella-grabbing, beard-scruffling antic that Kaala had to offer, a role only someone as charismatic as Rajnikanth could have pulled off.
Turbulent, violent, powerful, this was the Rajnikanth film that I’ve been waiting for for so long. If this isn’t the perfect platform to launch your political campaign, I really don’t know what is.