The film at best is a throwback to Rajinikanth from the past, where he would effortlessly pop a cigarette into his mouth just as easily as he would swerve his sunglasses in the air and have it settle on his face. At 68, Rajinikanth demands the same screen presence that he’s been doing for the past four decades albeit with a sense of poise and maturity that only time can give. Seasoned as always, the film is deftly made to suit his most ardent fans and pander to their whims and fancies. Needless to say, no Rajini fan would go home disappointed.
The movie is about Kaali who isn’t your average hostel warden. He changes things and rules at the hostel over time. He becomes everybody’s favourite, the hero of the campus, even winning a single mother’s heart. Predictably, he earns a few enemies. Beyond that, there is a dark past that lurks around him adding in more effects to this enigmatic college employee. The film proceeds to tell his story through flashbacks and in present times with oodles of twists and turns thrown in, some in the form of the characters played by Vijay Sethupathi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
It’s evident that Karthik Subbaraj is a smart filmmaker who weaves into the narrative sentiments that are currently plaguing the country. Remember the hooligans who vandalised a Valentine’s Day party a few days ago and went on to wreak havoc in the name of moral policing? The dig at all those dressed in saffron is rather too apparent and smartly brought in. However, while the plot is solid with the ending being satisfactory and unexpected, Karthik as a filmmaker allows himself to get a bit carried away, portraying Rajinikanth as the indestructible being that he is. But that’s the thing about a Rajnikanth film; it implores you to indulge in a bit of suspension of disbelief be it the swagger, the dialogue or the hyperbolic action sequence. That’s why you watched Rajinikanth in the 90s and that’s how fans want to watch Rajini again and again. It’s that inimitable swagger that gives you an adrenaline rush thus giving him the title ‘Superstar’.
While he does manage to outshine every other character in the film, actors such as Sananth Reddy, Sasikumar, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and others leave you wanting more from them, having done a commendable job either way.
There’s one grouse though. An actress like Simran, who is known for her performance and her sincerity to the character, didn’t deserve that little screen time. If you’re familiar with the term ‘fridging’, then you would know that that’s exactly what happens to the female characters in the film. Simran’s role could’ve been much more, especially when people called it her comeback. But the lack of her on screen leaves you disappointed, plus it’s mighty unfair to see an actress of her caliber barely given substance or meat to work on. The same goes for the other female characters including Trisha and Megha Aakash, each accomplished and performers in their own right.
The second half is dedicated to bullets and violence, dragging for a while often testing your patience. But this violence is what leads up to the climax, although it makes you wonder if it was all too necessary.
Anirudh Ravichander deserves all the applause for the terrific songs, especially the background score, something that rises to the occasion each time a crucial scene takes place.
More, colour is one of the main elements in the film, a huge role in itself. With the colour of the film going from warm to cool, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker understanding the nuances of moods and settings in a film like this.
At the end of the day, while the credits might say ‘A Karthik Subbaraj Padam’, you can’t help but think of just one name, one emotion. The name is Rajinikanth.