Imagine being told to come up with a piece of modern art in no specific style, with no brief: other than to play up the differences between black and white. That's what has happened with Kaala - which translates from Hindi to mean black - a film that toys with the political, spiritual and historical meanings of the colour black (and its opposite, white).
But the most dominant element of the film is of course Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, who plays the leader of the Tamils in the Mumbai slum of Dharavi.
Dhanush, who is the producer of the movie and Rajinikanth’s son-in-law, creates a fusion of eras for the setting of the movie, and the drawing just ends up being a botched canvas.
Also, most troubling is the fact that we continue to have to try and find the the old and frail Rajinikanth believable in a role where he is bashing up villains. Even Rohit Shetty, with a flimsy plot, delivers the action parts better than Rajinikanth. Also, Kaala or Karikalan, his real name in the movie, is torn confusingly between the dialogue of a happy-go-lucky leader and someone with a short fuse.
This is in part a period movie based on the much-depicted character of slumlord Vardarajan Mudaliar, who was one of the three dons in Mumbai in the late 1970s, but then that plot is juxtaposed using the character of Mudaliar and his image of a people’s man fighting the land mafia in today’s world.
The heroes are the blue-collared workers - the sewage, construction and laundry workers who deal with messy work and reside in slums, and so the reference to the colour black has to be tenuously justified throughout the script. The result is a laboured one.
As if the time period fusion was not difficult enough, the characters of both Huma Qureshi as Rajinikanth’s old flame and Easwari Rao as his chatterbox wife are explored side by side and separately. That means an extended run time for the movie: scenes of Rajinikanth’s past could definitely be trimmed.
That cuts into the screen time of Nana Patekar, whose role as the land mafia don is the saving grace of the movie. Two scenes between him and Rajinikanth are enough to lift and change the pace after the absolute boring first half, raising expectations up until the end when it all comes crashing down in the final scene.
Spoiler alert: we now discuss the (terrible) ending
While Patekar as Hari Dada becomes a larger-than-life villain, he is equated as the new Lord Ram and Kaala becomes the Raavan, the mythological characters from Ramayana representing good and evil respectively.
Having braved the contradictions galore for almost three hours, the climax scene is the worst bit. After Hari Dada conquers all, and kills Rajinikanth, he arrives for his victory lap.
A weird rap song and another dash of colours later, a TV reporter turns up saying Hari Dada is dead following “crowd trouble”. Just like that.
The 1.5 stars for this movie is only for Nana Patekar’s effort. For the rest of the movie, we recommend loads of popcorn to keep you distracted, or a black eye mask so that you can nod off.