‘Darbar’ Movie Review: Agony of joy, celebration and nostalgia

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The film scores heavily on Rajini’s style quotient. Whether he stands, walks, runs, or sits, there is a charisma to whatever he does.

A hardcore fan, all the way from Japan, joins the crowd outside the theatre as they, in their frenzy, venerate their favourite actor by performing the traditional paal abhishekam (a ritual of pouring milk on a big Rajinikanth poster). Inside the theatre, before the movie begins, a section of the audience starts chanting mantras. The euphoria surrounding the release of a Rajini film can be seen everywhere. (I saw and felt the love for Rajini all around and it’s something one has to experience for himself.) Once the film is projected onto the big screen, it doesn’t fail to entertain the audience either. Director A.R. Murugadoss’ Darbar is a film to celebrate for all those who adore Superstar Rajinikanth. Like Petta, it’s definitely not for anyone who is looking for a great story where the ‘actor’ Rajinikanth is fitted into. (He is one of those actors who has won the hearts of people with his exemplary performances more than anything else.) The narrative has poorly interwoven dots and dumbed-down plot points where the ‘Rajinism’ acts as the only saviour.

Darbar refers to a court held by a prince. Here, Adithya Arunachalam (Rajinikanth), the police commissioner, is the prince and Mumbai city is his court. He is, as he claims, a “bad cop”. The film touches upon the cases of human trafficking and illegal sale and consumption of drugs. But they are merely used to display the heroics of our protagonist. The cases are not explored in-depth and fade away quickly. We also see an interesting triangle – police being brutally killed; people losing faith in the police force; prisoners filling the gaps created by police. Again, Adithya steals the limelight here. In spite of a lot of things happening in the film, ‘Rajini mania’ simply outshines everything else. That’s good news for the fans but not so much for an ardent cinephile.

The film scores heavily on Rajini’s style quotient. Whether he stands, walks, runs, or sits, there is a charisma to whatever he does. The transformation in his countenance – from being sad at one point to slowly putting back smile on his face a moment later – is amazing.

It’s astonishing to see how Santosh Sivan, the cinematographer, captures the ‘Rajini moments’ using the ceiling fans. While Rajini is standing still, a camera, placed on the ground, captures him along with two ceiling fans on either side that makes for a perfect picture. Or, the camera is kept near the ceiling fan and the entire room is brought into focus. It, then, shows Rajini entering the room in style or throwing the phone away in his anger.

Whether it’s emerging from the smoke and walking towards the camera, or standing still inside a room with sunlight streaming in from the window, or putting on his goggles and turning to the other side, or just moving his finger to guide the men following him, Rajinikanth can make simple things look awesome.

Petta had plenty of references to previous Rajini films. Darbar doesn’t emulate Petta but does have some mentions too. Different instances make us hark back to some of his popular films. He looks at the camera and walks singing (with the lyrics containing life lessons) as the camera rotates from a stationary point and follows him. His dance moves remind us of Kuluvalile (Muthu) and Kokku Para Para (Chandramukhi). As he fights the goons with ease using the rapid movement of hands, it makes us reminisce about Moondru Mugam. The powerful way, in which he says his own name, make us remember Arunachalam. His Superstar title card music itself is reprised in the form of an addictive song (Kudos to Music Director Anirudh Ravichander).

Well, Darbar has its own original Rajini style too. Chumma Kizhi, another gem of a song from Anirudh, that will definitely make you tap your feet, features Rajini rendering a dance move that resembles the act of tearing something.

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The comical elements are abundant and it’s the character of Kaushik (Yogi Babu) whose scenes with Adithya are sidesplitting. Yogi Babu is a master of comedy and he has a peculiar way of insulting someone that seems extremely funny. He, as Kaushik, gets a surfeit of opportunities in the film to do that to Adithya character while the latter tries to impress a woman.

As a matter of fact, the funnier side of Rajini has always been a talking point. Kabali and Kaala, due to their strong and intense stories, couldn’t really show him in a jolly mood. But 2.0 and Petta had a superabundance of mirthful Rajini on display. Darbar is not far behind. Adithya and his daughter, Valli (Nivetha Thomas) show some dance moves during a classy fight sequence. Or, he, with a broad smile on the face, points his fingers at the camera and acts like he is shooting with a gun. Or, he just childishly explains how he will pierce the knife through all over his enemy’s chest and abdomen.

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Lilly (Nayanthara) is Adithya’s love-interest. Nayanthara’s charming presence, even though for a brief period, enthrals you. Apart from Yogi Babu, it’s Nayanthara who makes sure that she makes her presence felt. The mix of romance and hilarity during Rajini-Nayanthara-Yogi phase is one of the biggest highlights of the film. ‘Dumm Dumm’, another captivating song from Anirudh, features Nayanthara and Rajini dancing together that’s surely going to excite everyone.

Murugadoss doesn’t shy away from letting his audience know that Rajini is old. Yogi Babu who, in his flurry of humorous comments, keeps referencing to Adithya’s old age. Lilly’s cousin, rendered by Sriman in his brief and arresting spell, questions Adithya’s morality of loving a much younger woman (of his daughter’s age). Murugadoss purposely keeps such scenes to reiterate the fact that he is as popular and vibrant as ever. He wants to make a strong statement that over the years, Rajini, though, has aged, is still the most-sought-after actor. Adithya is seen doing weight training in the gym and passing a fitness test eventually. He is also revered by everyone no matter what their gender is or what age-group they belong to. (A group of transgenders sing and dance praising Adithya and even a small kid, wearing a police uniform, runs towards Adithya, comes to a stop and salutes him.)

Hari Chopra (Sunil Shetty), the main antagonist, appearing too late in the film, doesn’t have a powerful characterisation and isn’t impactful either. Other antagonists in the film played by Prateik, Nawab Shah and Jatin Sarna, after short appearances, vanish into thin air.

At most places, the bad storytelling is discernible. The film, especially, loses its hold halfway through as the dumb proceedings from thereon are irksome. For instance, the sentiments attached to the loss of the daughter is never felt. Or, the evil acts of antagonist and his villainy is not represented well enough.

In the recent past, fitting Rajinikanth into a great story and satisfying his hardcore fans has remained an enigma to many directors. Director Shankar’s Sivaji The Boss, Enthiran, and 2.0 are exceptions. Pa. Ranjith’s Kaala and Kabali also did well create an unusual environment for a Rajinikanth film. Darbar, in a way, follows the Petta-esque script where a plentitude of Rajini moments keeps the audience, fans in particular, engrossed. That doesn’t ensure the film to become memorable. The film definitely entertains. But when you leave Rajini out of the equation, the film feels hollow. Darbar is a treat for Rajini lovers but not so much for film connoisseurs.

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