An ageing don returns home after a quarter century of confinement only to find that things are in a much worse state than when he had left. When he figures out that bringing things under his control can only undo the wrongs, he gets out to set things straight carrying a gun in one hand and years of guilt, pain and loss in another. Will he rescue the people he once fought for, from the trap that they've fallen and in due course, get his personal life sorted forms the story of Kabali.
Director Ranjith, after the picture perfect Madras, has drawn Kabali as his trump card to launch himself into an entirely different league of directors. If he has used this opportunity well is the question, sort of, seems to be the answer. Considering how his previous flicks have been completely different with almost new cast and crew members, he had some big shoes to fill since he's directing the biggest star of Kollywood. The amount of research and authenticity he has got in is astounding and praiseworthy. He has used his ever reliable subtlety with the story as well as the way he has unraveled it. But knowing that featuring an icon needs its share of commercial elements, he has sprinkled a decent amount of it. But what we end up with is a film that looks neither like a Rajini film nor like that of Ranjith's.
Rajini's persona and strong screen presence needs no introduction. The fact that he's playing his real age only makes this better. The swag that he carries along with the respect he commands as an actor and as the character is mind blowing. Right from scene one, he carries an aggression that doesn't have space for anger and is fueled only with pure thirst for revenge. Leaving his 'Superstar' image aside, the Rajini in this film is filled with emotions. He jokes, shows mercy, despair and even cries. He doesn't have punch dialogues, but his actions will speak louder than them. Though this isn't what a certain chunk of his fans were expecting, it was indeed a pleasure to watch the 'actor' Rajini which rarely makes an appearance in films post the early 90s.
The cast and crew are young, fresh and definitely talented. Known to pen some powerful women characters, Ranjith has given a good amount of significance to the three main ladies of the film, Dhansika, Radhika Apte and Riythvika. Dhansika steals the show, as far as the trio are concerned with her tomboyish looks and charisma. Radhika Apte is one of the most soulful characters and her emotional shots including the close-ups show how Tamil cinema is yet to captivate on her acting prowess, something that Bollywood has made good use of. Riythvika does her role pretty well, but her character looks under-developed.
The other men unfortunately don't shine much. Kalaiyarasan, Dinesh, Kishore and John Vijay get their share of decent screen space, but they rarely earn our attention. Winston Chao, the main antagonist, tries his best to look intimidating, but he isn't able to invoke fear in Rajini nor the audience.
Anu Vardhan's costumes bring another level of style and elegance to the characters. Murali G's lens have captured the beautiful cities of Malaysia and Thailand beautifully. Santhosh Narayanan scores well with the background music for both the emotional scenes as well as action sequences. Though 'Neruppu da' is the most awaited video song from the album, it has been reduced to just a few montage shots. Editing by Praveen could've been better, but he has given his best to mask a couple of dull moments.
The film has its fair share of ups and downs. Though captivating at times, Kabali has its own set of flaws. Slow pacing and characters dropping out of the story half-way are examples for that. The film tries to get the best of what a typical Rajini film and Ranjith film will usually have to offer but falls flat at places. Though Kabali might not have what it takes to gratify all the fans, it's surely a film that can be enjoyed with family and ensure a pristine smile of satisfaction when walking out of the screens.
Overall, Kabali brings back the Rajini whom many aren't accustomed to and a racier screenplay along with an even more intense story-line would've made it a much better affair.