Kaala is not a film for the masses: Rajinikanth fans turn up for early morning shows but in unusually less numbers

Mridula Ramadugu

Jun,07 2018 17:12:33 IST

First Vivegam, then Mersal and now Kaala. The last half of 2017 and now 2018 has been about grand releases and crazy fanfare.

This time around, it was time for Thalaivar's release. But post Kaala, Chennaities are going to change their perspective. Of course, nothing can beat Rajinikanth's fandom, nothing can match up to his international appeal. Imagine, I spotted a Japanese couple who has been flying down to Chennai for the past 10 years to catch Rajini movies, FDFS (First Day First Show). That's why we write about Rajini the way we do. But they say, every star comes of age. And may be Rajini just did. But with a movie of more content and less machoism. There was no sea of fans in the early morning shows like usual, but the film is picking up in subsequent shows.

A still of Rajinikanth from Kaala/Image from Twitter.

A still of Rajinikanth from Kaala/Image from Twitter.

And why do we say this? Though we walked into Rohini at 4AM and witnessed crackers, yearly milk abhishekams and enough dandanaka, you know it when the day is slow. Being an avid follower of the superstars, you will know exactly when the crowd is too much and unusually less. You must be thinking we are crazy to say this despite witnessing footage after footage since morning 4 AM, of fans going berserk outside theatres cutting cakes and celebrating like a festival. But things seems to have changed a bit this year. And not only we, but fellow audience, reporters and even the Chennai autowallas think so.

Though Albert and Kasi theatres have been famous for the Thalaivar movies, Rohini has recently taken over as the hub to watch 4 AM shows. This Thursday too, hundreds, including critics, flocked there to witness festivities as the gates opened. But soon, there was an unusual silence. Theatres, that usually fill up in seconds, seem to have many shows up for grabs. There is of course enough dance and drums before every show, but the first step into any theatre in Chennai today, gave a different vibe. We could not help but compare the scenario to the last two mega releases Vivegam and Mersal. While Thala and Illayathalapathy battled it at the box office last year, fans ran into theatres like a stampede or something. Getting tickets for early morning shows or any show for the next two days seemed closed to impossible. In Rohini and Kasi, the audience literally sat on the floors and hooted for Ajith. There was not a single dialogue you could hear properly as the audience just could not contain their excitement. The vibe outside halls right after the first show of Mersal was very much intact. But we all know what happened to Mersal, and especially Vivegam, in terms of content.

And the last time we witnessed all this to the same scale was for Kabali in 2016. From then to now, Rajnikanth's fans have seemed to get subdued or say, have kept it rather subtle this year. Very surprisingly, the rush for tickets did not gather any social media attention. Usually, opening Instagram or Twitter would be like the entertainment news bulletin of the day, filled with stories of the superstar's entry. I remember I was in Mumbai then. Aurora theatre was packed with crowd, screams and whistles every few seconds. But today? Whistles happened only when necessary and only when Rajini really struck a chord. Albert, known to be Rajini's spot too had lesser crowd. People were thinking twice to admit that Kasi was no different. There was madness enough for me step on a bomb cracker and not realise, but there was not enough madness to go lost or stop breathing.

There has been a tremendous change in the first day shows of Rajinikanth movies and there are numerous reasons behind it, like politics and Ramazan. We could not believe such a day would arrive in the superstar's career. It did. But this buzz does not do justice to the film. A movie which we can call Ranjth's and not Rajini's, for a change.

Kaala is everything that would happen when a Pa Ranjith's raw filmmaking meets a superstar like Rajinikanth. It is only Kabali where Ranjith shed all of his aura and gave us a memorable revenge drama. However with Kaala, he represents issues that are very real, power politics quite relatable and a superstar movie where the supporting cast is given unbelievable screen space. For me, when I walked out, Rajini was definitely lingering on my mind for the well-choreographed ending but when it comes to impactful performances, it was Easwari Rao, Manikandan, Huma Qureshi, Anjali Patil, Nana Patekar (How we wish his dubbing was not that flawed) and the many other individuals that stood out. There were scenes where we suddenly noticed more hard-hitting performances others in Dharavi than Rajini. Dharavi is set up really well and with the slum as the premise, the director gives a lot of topics that have now given us something to ponder about.

How often do we concentrate on individual, especially female lead's performances in a Rajini movie? The last was probably Padaiyappa and Chandramukhi to name a few. Pa Ranjith's movie in parts struggles between commercial cinema and content oriented scripts. More than often many scenes are caught up in cliches yet again. Every time we thought things are going to different this time around, the makers thrown in something we have seen before, a gazillion time. There is a very thin line between the both in this movie.

And that is probably why Kaala is something that would not suit the masses immediately. I walked into the theatre expecting Rajinikanth to do his trademark walk with a smirk and all of those 'gethu' elements, accompanied by a roaring background score. But wait, he did not do any of that in the beginning, though he had to later (Is it really a Rajini movie, otherwise?). So it is not surprising that the masses found it draggy and non-edgy. Which it was in many instances. Kaala sure had screenplay flaws which were quickly diverted by Rajini's presence. But for a change, many from the audience seem to give this debatable movie a chance.

Though there were fans who whispered, 'Let's shift our fan base' and 'Oh how boring', there were also a large part of the audience who said, 'Better than Kabali', 'More thoughtful than the usual' These two contrasting view points talk volumes of the changing South Indian cinema crowd and expectations.

The audience have matured and a few of them choose to be stuck to the blueprints of commercial cinema, which Pa Ranjith ignores in parts with Kaala. We say in parts because we see how the director fumbles when tries to balance the larger than life image of Rajini and the very subtle rowdy that he is perceived to be in this.

A still from Kaala. Image from Twitter

A still from Kaala. Image from Twitter

There is unusual silence for scenes that shake us, there are claps for Rajni's comic timing which is still cute at that age and then there are screams for the few punch lines he throws. Whatever said and done, "Kya re, setting ah?" will still manage to join his long list of dialogues. Rajini will still prove in every chance he gets why he can still romance like a king. His "I love you Di" is very much impressive, and both the goofy and teary romantic scenes get us involved. Meanwhile, we also see that the actor has aged in dance sequences like 'Thanga Sela', but we should say gracefully aged.

On the way back, as I tried to jot down everything I went through from 3 AM to 3 PM watching the film and the frenzy, Rajini's salt-and-pepper look, the black lungi and many vibrant actors uplifting him in the movie for a change, were the first things to flash. And while I conversed the same with an auto driver,he was surprised that I made it for the 4 AM show and quickly explained why Kaala could get lesser collection at the box office. But he too said, "Only Pa Ranjith could pull off this. Only he can make movies like Madras and now Kaala". As an average audience member, we totally agree that once in a while a superstar like Rajini needs a Pa Ranjith. For a few, it was impactful cinema, for a few "a one time watch", for a few "Rajini's political agenda". But the best way to look at it I feel is as a young director's vision taken over by a larger than life icon.

Updated Date: Jun 08, 2018 10:17 AM