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Slumdog Mumbai

Saturday, June 09, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Kaala Karikalan
Pa Ranjith
Cast: Rajinikanth, Nana Patekar, Huma Qureshi and others
Rating: * *

The Rajinikanth myth-making has gone on for so long and with such vehemence that it would be difficult for any star to live up to it; and the possibility of disappointing viewers just goes up with every film that fails to match the hype.

Where Pa Ranjith’s 'Kaala Karikaalan' (dubbed to Hindi) is concerned, a non-fan would wonder what the fuss is about, and the fan would wonder where that fire-and-brimstone hero went? Throughout the film, the talk is much more than the action, in spite of the many slow-mo shots of a black-clad Rajinikanth striding with purpose; but what exactly is the purpose?

The story of a Tamil don protecting his Dharavi turf has been done with much more power and style in Mani Ratnam's 'Nayakan'. Two decades later, the same growling and posturing over the rights of the poor does not have any vigour. For a superstar who is entering politics, it is a mellow kind of part to do – to show that he cares for the poor.

Viewers in the South would get the socio-political and caste references, but the Dharavi setting would not resonate with them; while audiences in Mumbai who would get the significance of Dharavi, are in the midst of a development boom. How can any slum leader justify  blocking the development, just to prove that the people are with him. This faux-socialistic glorification of poverty (romance in the toilet line!) is so 1970s, today a slum community would expect their leader to negotiate the best terms for them, and not feed them slogans.

After watching politicians instigate communal riots and plot murders of their rivals while cops look away, in so many films, it has become a cliché. The film goes on in this pro-and-anti-development path interminably, with nothing new to say. It is not even clear why the people of Dharavi worship Kaala (in Nayakan, the don was seen to look after his people), because all he does is talk, stroke his grey beard, dance and romance his wife (Eswari Rao). There is also an ex-girlfriend, Zarina (Huma Qureshi), who serves no purpose except to provide a small dash of glamour in the film.

Kaala believes builders will steal the rights of the people, while his own son Lenin (Manikadan), his firebrand 'Marathi mulgi' girlfriend (Anjali Patil) and slum rights activist Zarina are dazzled by white-clad local leader Hari Abhyankar’s (Nana Patekar) plan to rebuild Dharavi.

There is a whole lot of Ram-Raavan, black-white dialogue thrown about, and one truly star-worthy scene in which Abhyankar is unable to leave Dharavi till Kaala allows him to.

The film has great production design and cinematography, but dull music, barely passable performances, and a pace that is sluggish in the extreme. The viewer waits in vain for the superstar to work his magic.

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