Caution: Spoilers ahead
The unfortunate problem with a film starring Super Star – a mild descriptor perhaps, but that’s what it universally is – is that films invariably need to be crafted around him. Unlike the pedestrian Lingaa, Kabali actually has at its core, an interesting thought; the plight of immigrant Indians in foreign countries due to rampant racism, among other things.
The truth of the matter then, is this: Kabali could have been a far better film if it did not star Super Star Rajinikanth. The film has been moulded around his aura; but, with Rajinikanth playing his age for the first time, there’s a lot of what he usually does, that he doesn’t do in this film. (He even puts on his sunglasses like an ordinary mortal would, yes.) Additionally, his presence means that the concept of an Indian fighting to be accepted as an equal in a foreign land is virtually lost.
Yet, around his blazing persona; the rather meandering screenplay that inexplicably takes too long to make a point; and a fine actor like Radhika Apte spending most of her screen time being pregnant and/or looking at Rajinikanth with devoted adoration; one interesting aspect of Kabali is the character of Kabali’s daughter.
The character of Yogita, played by Dhansika, could and should have been explored further, yet the way she has been treated in the film is a distinct departure from the otherwise thoroughly commercial, stereotypical (and hence obviously patriarchal) nature of the film.
We don’t get too many female assassins in our cinema, and we’ve rarely seen a father and daughter fight side-by-side in a gangland battle. Dhansika, with her intense eyes and confident screen presence, stands right next to Rajinikanth in a number of scenes, engaging in decent physical combat and action.
In fact, the gender neutral treatment of her character, whether intentional or unintentional, is a refreshing change in any commercial film at all, but even more so for what is essentially a gangster flick. Even the way Kabali treats his daughter makes you feel that the gender of a person does not really matter in any profession.
Kabali initially develops paternal feelings towards another girl — a more ‘homely’ person (so to speak). Yet, when he realises that his child actually happens to be someone starkly different; someone who, in the moral code of our pitiful world, would be the antithesis of a ‘decent girl’, Kabali doesn’t bat an eyelid. If anything, his eyes open wide with pride.
Clearly, for Kabali, the gender of his child matters far less than her abilities. It may be a very subtle point, but it goes a long way in making a devoted audience feel the same way. These are the kind of gentle shifts that we need to see in our big, star-studded blockbusters, which can help change the way we define and bind our ‘mothers and daughters’ to behaviour and an existence that only the patriarchal establishment deems fit. (This was a lesson that Mr Sultan learned rather late.)
Yes, one wishes that Yogita didn’t also have to crop her hair to a style that made her seem less feminine, but then the film is not devoid of gender judgement anyway, so expecting that much would perhaps seem like expecting too much.
Despite the hiccups, Kabali ends up being a fair one-time watch primarily because of Rajinikanth never once failing to ooze style. Hopefully though, the treatment of Kabali’s daughter can help mark a new way in which we see important female characters on our screens.