‘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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Petta Movie Review: A truest, exhilarating and jovial masala action movie

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Petta is a romantic, mind-boggling, and a rollicking ride that is ‘only’ for Rajini fans

It’s a dark corridor of a college hostel and masked men are attacking students with billhooks. Kaali a.k.a Pettavelan (Superstar Rajinikanth) comes from the dark saying “ulle poda” (Go inside) in Baasha-ish style that sort of reverberates through the corridor. This scene comes just before the intermission which sent shivers down my spine. Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta is a masala action film where you get ‘rajnified’ by the truest ‘mass moments’ (as the heroic moments are called in Tamil cinema). Petta is not exactly about a transformation of the protagonist from an innocuous guy to a powerful man like we see in Baasha. It is more of a showing-his-real-identity thing where he is already known for being courageous and influential.

Karthik Subbaraj’s storytelling has been his greatest asset and it was no different in Petta. It takes us back and forth to different times and keeps springing surprises thereby keeping us engrossed. The story begins with a riveting present-day scene and goes back in the past that eventually leads us to that present day. It again digs further down in the past to uncover more secrets and comes back to the present day for a grand finale. Petta is about Pettavelan, the college hostel warden, who is not only responsible for looking after the students but has a history with present-day powerful politician Singaar Singh a.k.a Singaaram (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). We learn about Pettavelan’s real motive of joining the college as warden and revel in the intriguing duel between him and Singaaram.

Petta is replete with references to Rajinikanth’s previous movies and the aura that he has created over the years. Anyone who is a true fan of Rajini (like Director Karthik Subbaraj himself) and has been hankering for reliving those ‘Rajini moments’ would definitely relish every reference that has been made in this film. Rajini’s famous “paambu..paambu” dialogue still makes us laugh and Pettavelan does say that to frighten the college mess supervisor (Munishkanth Ramdoss). When Singaaram’s son Jithu (Vijay Sethupathy) asks for a cigarette, he throws one in his own mouth, lights it and exhales smoke (but also advises not to smoke). In another scene, he even twirls his gun around the trigger finger. Anu (Megha Akash), the daughter of Rajini’s love-interest Mangalam (Simran) in the present day, tells Pettavelan that he looks stylish like a young boy to which he says, “naturally”. When he throws open the gate outside Mangalam’s home, it reminds us of that iconic gate scene from his first film Apoorva Raagangal. One can’t help but rejoice in the reminiscence of his film Mullum Malarum when he dances to the song called ‘Raman Aandaalum’. Maalik (M. Sasikumar), the close friend of Pettavelan and Anwar (Sananth Reddy), the son of Maalik, reminds us of that beautiful friendship from the movie Baashha.

Huge credit goes to Karthik Subbaraj for showing us the playful side of Rajinikanth to an extent that was perhaps last seen in Sivaji The Boss. When being interviewed for warden post by the College Principal (Y.G. Mahendran), Pettavelan bangs hard on the table, gets hold onto a toy and says “bommai” (toy) referring to the Principal. He is also not just walking around in the college. Instead, we see him in a rollicking mode all the time. He does a cricket bowling action while walking along with college mess supervisor. While Michael (Bobby Simha) and his men are ragging the junior guys, Pettavelan comes in the midst of them and shakes a leg. At a funeral, we see Pettavelan jovially dancing to the beats of drums. It is chucklesome to see his reaction when Maalik, who has impregnated Poongodi, says that he has done nothing. In another scene, lost in the beauty of Mangalam, who is a pranic healer in this film, Pettavelan winds up asking if she is a “biryani dealer”.

I never wanted the romantic phase between Pettavelan and Mangalam to end at all. Rajinikanth and Simran’s pair was reinvigorating and pleasant to watch which made this a dreamy phase and one for the ages. Pettavelan knocks on her door and looks at the mirror to see if he is looking alright. Mangalam does the same on the inside before opening the door. Anu and her boyfriend Anwar are mesmerised by the blossoming romance between Pettavelan and Mangalam as she smilingly watches him cooking food (And so are we enthralled by this lovely relationship!). It is a beautiful scene when they go out and buy flowers and ‘Ilamai Thirumbuthe’ song in the background exemplifies the beauty even more (Anirudh Ravichander’s commendable music is one of the quintessential elements of this film).

As the first half of the movie covers the romance and college scenes, one may start thinking if this is what the movie is all about. In one of the scenes in the second half, Pettavelan gets a phone call from Mangalam and does not answer reaffirming that there is no time for love and more important issues are at stake. So, as we approach towards the intermission, Pettavelan and his fight with the goons gets triggered. It is almost like Pettavelan is giving a signal to the audience to sit-back-and-enjoy when he is sitting on an easy-chair near the college gate with his hands behind the head literally waiting for the goons to attack him. All the drama surrounding ragging in the college, the enmity between Michael and Anwar, and the romance comes to a halt as the movie unveils the core issues of the movie. It was thrilling to see Rajinikanth using nunchaku (chain sticks), a martial arts weapon popularised by Bruce Lee, to fight against goons with such agility. The scene where he shoots at the chairs which are piled up behind Jithu is a visual treat.

In a film like this, where everyone has performed so well, it is hard to pinpoint one or two. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Singaaram looks threatening when a bomb goes off at a place and he crawls over dead bodies frantically in search of Pettavellan. Vijay Sethupathy as Jithu looks villainous when he removes the shawl from one hand and starts shooting at the goons. Simran as Mangalam is not just beautiful but performs with aplomb when she had to persuade another patient (Chinni Jayanth) to wait outside while she is treating Pettavelan. The evil look of Bobby Simha as Michael works wonder as he does all the talking in absence of Pettavelan but could not say a word while he is present. M. Sasikumar as Maalik looks perfect for this innocent character. Although, I felt that Saro’s character could have been given some importance as her death did not evoke any emotion. Also, Maalik’s friendship with Pettavelan seemed to have been cut short and did not fully develop into a strong bond that it aspired to. But the lack of focus on these characters did not really affect much as the story had a lot of complications and was gradually revealing everything in an immersing way.

Whether it was intentionally done or the movie really required it, I have no idea. Petta has some political touch to it (Rajini’s political entry in the real-life has definitely worked in the film’s favour). There is a politician who calls himself “Kingmaker” while in the background someone is speaking on the phone asking how much thermocol is needed (a clear reference to a Tamil Nadu minister who floated thermocol sheets to curb water loss due to evaporation).  Pettavelan even asks the students to ‘speak up’ for their problems related to hostel food. During the ragging scene, he also reiterates that ‘newcomers are never welcomed properly’. We also see Pettavelan reading a book about politics during the interview with the College Principal. While convincing Rajapandi for the marriage of Maalik and Poongodi, Pettavelan says that he does not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. There is also a reference to some of the recent incidents related to killings in the name of cow protection when some people start attacking Jithu for the same reason.

I am afraid that Petta is not for the ones who are not true fans of Rajinikanth. Fans of Karthik Subbaraj (like myself) may not be enjoying as much for there are compromises made to accommodate Rajini moments. But Petta will be remembered for the Rajini mania that it has created. As the acknowledgements in the beginning clearly mention that it is dedicated to Superstar Rajinikanth, one would expect a lot of fan moments. The inception itself had an answer to that as Karthik Subbaraj drops us to a fight scene right away and a blurred vision of Rajinikanth can be seen which is followed by his angry eyes and then the full picture. Petta will also be remembered for new dialogues of Rajinikanth (like dancing to a song for 30 seconds to forget our problems or cooking the food with love or my favourite, “Nallavana iru, romba nallavana irukathey”). This is the sort of movie where I won’t mind Prime Minister of the country calling a college principal to recommend Pettavelan for a warden post. Petta is a romantic, mind-boggling, entertaining and a rollicking ride that makes us say “yes, we want more” when Rajinikanth turns towards the camera and asks, “intha aattam pothuma?”.

2.0 Movie Review: A sci-fi film to be lived, loved and experienced

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2.0 is a sci-fi action film which is fascinating, educative and a visual masterpiece where Rajinikanth shines all the way

I knew that this is Director Shankar’s film and I was prepared for the visual extravaganza that his films are known for. 2.0 was no different. Things like how big the budget of the film is and the top-notch VFX shots that the film has to offer were given the wings to fly to spread before the release in the promotional campaigns. So, perhaps I needed to warm myself up before the film portrays the visually impressive scenes. And 2.0 does warm you up. In the very beginning, it gives you a lot to ponder over with a mixture of emotions. While a whole family is engrossed on smartphones, a man is speaking to someone on his phone saying that he is having a “quality time” with his family. Another guy takes a selfie sitting beside a dead man pretending to be sad. And a lady says that the phone has kept her lead the marital life in spite of her husband working in a foreign country. A guy says that he is bored to death without a phone. This is a humorous yet an intelligent sequence of shots that put forth the picture of where the world is heading in this age of mobile phones.

The film does not waste any time and keeps us arrested right from the word go. It depicts the dominance of phones in our lives. But interestingly phones also dominate most of the narrative. A guy is talking on the phone while riding his motorcycle and falls from his vehicle as the phone flies away into nowhere (hidden advice that you shouldn’t be talking on the phone while riding a motorcycle?). I loved Shankar’s vision when a swarm of phones glides along the road and into a bungalow. In another riveting scene, phones slide down from the trees and crawl among the fallen leaves to attack phone company chief (Kaizaad Kotwal). Also, it was terrifying when a truckload of phones go inside a phone seller’s mouth as he explodes into pieces. Even the military tank finds itself helpless before a horde of phones. I could not have imagined a better way of showing destruction and death just using mobile phones. There is no random killing of people. What works in a big way is that it makes us think of real motive behind every single event. We get a feeling that all these events are happening to prove a point as the people who get attacked are phone seller, phone company chief and Telecom Minister (Kalabhavan Shajohn) – Watch out for the transient but brilliant and hilarious performance of Telecom minister and his assistant (Mayilsamy).

2.0 resumes from where it left off in Endhiran (yes you must watch it to understand the references in 2.0). So obviously, there are elements of Endhiran in this film. There is a phone call from Sana (Aishwarya Rai) – Dr. Vaseegaran’s (Scientist Rajinikanth) love interest – we do not actually see her but just hear the voice. Chitti, humanoid version of Rajinikanth, has human-like feelings which force him not to shoot Dr. Vaseegaran. 2.0, which is both the title of the movie and the name of the evil version of Chitti, uses a cluster of guns to shoot, becomes a magnet to attract objects made of iron, forms a spherical figure shooting all around and even says that iconic dialogue (meh..) in his villainous tone. There are references to Shankar’s other films as well. When evil Chitti says that it is always a great feeling to die and then come back alive, it reminds us of Sivaji: The Boss. There is also an Anniyan-esque scene involving Dr. Vaseegaran and Pakshirajan (Akshay Kumar) where Chitti gets ripped off.

Everything about Akshay Kumar as Pakshirajan and the story revolving around him was so wonderful to watch. We feel the calm and composed nature of his character as he explains his love for birds. It is a pleasant sight when we see the birds perched on his stretched arms or when a bird is building a nest over the ceiling fan. As the pullinangal song enthrals us in the background (Music director A.R. Rahman is at his best), a bird nods its head to the rhythm of the song. It is so moving to hear him talk about the harsh realities of cell phone signals that are killing birds. I was driven by the emotional and poignant display in the movie when a dead baby bird falls in the hands of Pakshirajan. And then there is this Pakshirajan, with his face tilted and wearing a sly grin, looking fierce in the avatar of ‘birdman’ (as evil Chitti calls him) as a rap song plays in the background that enhances the style and ferociousness.

Amy Jackson as Nila is a nice addition to this film. She is a humanoid, has pre-programmed feelings and assists Dr. Vaseegaran. Although she does not have much to do with the narrative, she never looks out of place. Her romance portions look funny and it works. Like when Dr. Vaseegaran proposes to get Chitti back on road, it brings a wide smile on Nila. She even says dialogues like vada poche! (a leaf taken out of Comedian Vadivelu’s sidesplitting one-liners) and naalu peruku nalladhuna edhuvum thappilla (famous scene from the movie Nayagan). It is comedic when the Irumbile oru idhaiyam song (from Endhiran) plays in the background as she romantically looks at Chitti.

It was hugely satisfying to watch Rajinikanth pull off a stunner as he performed with aplomb. We see him taking different avatars from small to giant. He literally lived in those characters. As Dr. Vaseegaran, there is every bit of scientist in him as he uses a visualisation technology to explain things. He does not try to run fast, jump high or fight with someone. As a matter of fact, Nila saves him from a falling tower and is even helped to climb and jump off a wall. For all the action, there is Chitti. Chitti continues his superhuman stuff from where he left off in Endhiran. But the evil Chitti stole the show with his villainous yet comical display. I laughed out loud when evil Chitti kept on imitating a bird. Deservingly, he had a Superstar Rajni title card that appeared magnificently before the start of the movie in 3D.

There were a few areas that did not work for me. Dhinendra Bohra (Sudhanshu Pandey) did not really grow into a threatening character. He did not seem to have much relevance other than being the son of Bohra (Danny Denzongpa) who played the antagonistic role in Endhiran. Pakshirajan turning into a giant bird did not scatter my wits. There was a feeling of familiarity as Dr. Vaseegaran pitches for Chitti’s return. That truck scene where the giant bird is being controlled did not look menacing and seemed draggy. And it seems like movies with superheroic stories can’t be made without demolishing the building with people in it or without hurting the people in general. The spherical figure, formed by evil Chitti, runs in and around the stadium shooting everywhere all the while with people running helter-skelter. Also, the fight sequence between giant versions of evil Chitti and Pakshirajan did not quite work for me. It was annoying to see few lip-sync fails as some actors including Akshay Kumar were actually speaking in Hindi.

I liked how the dialogues (B. Jeyamohan’s Tamil dialogues are phenomenal) were intelligently capturing the mood of the film. Pakshirajan rips off the legs of Chitti and says, “Your call (kaal) is disconnected”. He attacks Dhinendra Bohra saying that he is also a “subscriber”. The movie educates us about the relevance of using technology in an optimal way without causing any damage to the other lives on earth (birds in this case). But it never feels preachy. It is a movie which is to be lived, loved and experienced. There is a scene in the movie where a man tells that he started enjoying life more without the phones but still comes out to buy a new one. That perfectly puts the current scenario as neither can we stay without it forever nor can we keep using it all the time. It did trigger me to look at the world with a different viewpoint and I hope it encourages more people to understand that this world is not only for humans. 2.0 is a sci-fi action film which is fascinating, educative and a visual masterpiece where Rajinikanth shines all the way. As Dr. Vaseegaran suggests, I will at least keep a pot of water for the birds in the extreme summer. Dot.