And so we have a guest writer this time round, a non-indian friend of mine who just experienced his first time at a Tamil Cinema Theatre for a "first day first show" Rajinikanth's film! Manjan, a term that is no longer racist but has become more of a term of endearment these days which he is extremely proud to be associated with, has written his first Tamil movie review here.
Thank you, Bro!
A Manjan’s First Tamil Movie Experience - Kabali
Yes, you read the title correctly. I am a manjan. And you are reading my little musings about my first Tamil movie. I do have to make it clear though, that I am by no means an expert on Indian culture, nor did I Major in film studies (I only took 2 modules on film analysis during uni), so please don’t have calls for me to be stoned, or flogged, or have my limbs disemboweled. To be honest I wasn’t even intending to pen my thoughts down. All I wanted to do was to grumble to my friend about a (common friend’s) scathing Facebook comment regarding Kabali. So yes, this isn't meant to be a counter-argument, a technical analysis nor is it even a review of Kabali. It’s just the chronicles of a little manjan and his first tamil movie.
One more thing. Before I begin, I want to stress that I have tried my best to avoid having spoilers in this post. However, there are still some issues I have raised regarding the plot. If you have unfortunately been unable to watch Kabali so far and would not like to be spoiled, then please click the back button on your browser.
So anyway, this eventful day started with me meeting my Indian friends for a movie at cinema. I have to admit that I was actually pretty damn stoked about the movie, partly because of all the stories I heard from them- about how fans would howl, whistle, shout and even throw bottles and popcorn at the cinema screen (not to display their displeasure mind you, but to show an “affection” of sorts).
So yes, major disappointment here- there was a 100% bag check at the cinema and all bottles (empty or not) were to be confiscated by this super grumpy angsty staff. I mean, let’s not be harsh, I could totally understand her frustration, partly in so because she shouted to her colleague several feet away (when I was immediately in front of her), “I TOLD THEM ALREADY BUT THEY DON’T LISTEN SO THEY ARE JUST WASTING THEIR OWN TIME). But hey, this review isn't about to be dedicated to her.
And on to the show, stupid manjan here actually thought that the opening ad about gold and jewellery was part of the opening sequence of Kabali. I mean, we all make mistakes, right?
|(picture not taken in Singapore Rex theatres. only for illustration purpose)|
So the show starts, and this time I know it’s for real, because the crowd goes crazy and the screen is black except for the words “SUPER STAR RAJINI”. To be totally honest, I was definitely shell-shocked by the rambunctious behaviour of the audience. Let’s just sum it up as: “I could definitely see why the 100% bag check was instituted”. But hey, if you go with a sincere and open heart, everything is an eye opening experience, right? Of course I recovered almost immediately and barely even a minute later, I was happily shouting and screaming along with the crowd. I must say, it was really an unique experience. I mean seriously, how often does a manjan get to howl, shout and even scream like a fangirl whenever Rajini does something cool or oozes sexiness on screen?
Alright, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty technical stuff. The mise-en-scene. Part of the show’s goals were to make several attempts to highlight the deep pockets of Rajini, I guess. Viewers were quickly (and when I say quickly, I mean like faster than you can say, “KABALI”) transported from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Thailand and back, before audiences were again, quickly whizzed off to Chennai (we were also almost sent to the US and France as well). No real major complains here, apart from the occasional cheap animations- used in some explosions and scenes that a manjan (who has grown up watching Hollywood and Japanese movies) really didn't expect to see in a Kollywood blockbuster.
Product advertisements were blatant and rife, which kind of spoiled the experience a little for me. A key complaint about the mies-en-scene though, would be the night cityscape shot of KL that was featured in the opening scene to set the location and context of the movie. The night cityscape scene had colours that were so heavily saturated there were times I really found myself wondering if that scene was real or just a CGI rendering done on the computer. The continued abuse, I mean reuse, of this scene throughout the movie to facilitate scene transitions also made me wonder if the decision to do so was a conscious one by the director- to facilitate the conveyance of a message to the viewers, or just to act as a band-aid and cover up for the horrible job by the editor.
However, none of this really affected the show for me much in general, as the acting of Rajini was more than enough for me to save the movie. Rajini’s ability to bring Kabali to life was something expected- despite his age, yet also cringeworthy to watch at times (chin-up at the jail scene). Rajini oozes sexiness naturally. I can’t really nail it yet but a subtle yet perfect combination of his charisma, deep voice and mannerisms was what made this munjen instantly become a fanboy.
Long-time fans of Rajini will be glad because the movie is full of so many sexy and swoon-worthy Rajini moments- slow motion walks, hair flicks, stylish poses and even Instagram-able quotes are rife throughout the show. As Kabali, Rajini plays a man who has essentially devoted and sacrificed the majority of his life (even going to the extent of being incarcerated) to become a saviour to the marginalised Tamils living in Malaysia.
Yet behind this seemingly giant of a man is a normal human being who was somebody’s brother, father and most importantly, husband. To me, this attempt at humanising Kabali is perhaps the strongest drawing point of this larger than life character. I also appreciated the physical humanness of Kabali, unlike other Bollywood or Anime shows where the main character is often depicted as a godlike character who cannot be gravely injured. In short, you can simply just call me biased but oh man seriously speaking Rajini is just so charismatically sexy and mesmerising.
The next technical aspect, editing, was utilised either confusing-disorientating way or was just plain cheesy at times. For example, there was a scene in which Rajini leaned against the wall of a balcony while reminiscing about his wife. Quite amazingly, with quick pan of the vertically moving camera, the dark colour of the sky also quickly transitioned into an orange glow. I may not be an expert on editing shots, but I’m pretty sure a more aesthetically pleasing method to show the passage of time could have been used instead.
The cinematography of the movie was also rather limited, with the director having to resort to various close up shots of the characters in order to emphasise their feelings or emotions. I have to admit that I am more of a sucker for Kurosawa’s ability to convey emotions through the use of the mies-en-scene instead. In addition, viewers were also treated to two scenes of Rajini as he longs for his wife and somehow imagines or hallucinates her appearance. I personally felt that the scenes were far too long and draggy and really didn't serve much of a purpose other than to highlight his deep love and longing for his wife and family.
Perhaps the one technical aspect of the movie that saved it was the non-diegetic sound which was immensely helped by the soundtrack. In particular, the theme song “Neruppu Da” was consistently played at the right moments in the movie and never failed to make me get pumped up and all excited for the subsequent smacking that Rajini was about to deliver. Heck, I’ve been listening to it on repeat as I typed and edited this entry.
I also felt that more could be done in terms of plot. For example, I felt that there could be more interaction between Yogi and Kabali’s wife. Does she even know that her daughter is a mercenary? Would she have approved? How about Tiger? When was he actually captured by the police? And is Jeeva dead? Or just sporting a bloody stump? How about Ang Lee? Is he dead? What is his secret to looking youthful despite a 25 year time skip? I’m actually hoping that we get to see him celebrate his 125 anniversary in “Kabali 2”, if the producers decide to actually go ahead with a sequel. Jokes aside, I also felt that the movie was also a tad too slow at certain points for my liking as well. I really didn't need to see the crew “travel” across the world to search for Kabali’s wife. And I would have certainly preferred to see a less disjointed version of Kabali’s past instead.
Overall, I would still say that Kabali isn't really that bad after all. Was it a waste of my money? I don't think so. Would I pay to watch it again? I have never paid to watch any movie a second time- manjans are just born cheapskate, so that question is really a subjective one. To me at least, from an analytical point of view, Kabali really isn’t such a bad movie. True, it has its shortcomings and could done better in many aspects, however, I wouldn't really go so far as to call it a waste of my time. Nor would I condemn the movie based on its lacklustre editing, cinematography and mise-en-scene.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I can understand the anger and disappointment of fans considering the level of hype surrounding the movie and I am not here to downplay or snide them for it. Perhaps my expectations were too low to begin with. Perhaps I didn’t even have any expectations. Maybe my company was great and therefore I really did enjoy myself. More than the shouting, squealing and screaming of myself and everyone else present, I guess it was 2.5 hours of my life where I truly felt Indian. Just like how a first love always has that special place in a person’s heart, Kabali will always be fondly remembered in mine.