Thursday 11 August 2016

Kabali ... Gangster's paradise

DIRECTOR Pa. Ranjith's Tamil film Kabali pits the mainly poor and oppressed Tamil Malaysians against the mainly rich Chinese Malaysians, and when you have Indian superstar Rajinikanth playing a Tamil gangster don, you can guess how the film will end: with Rajinikanth sitting in his own Game of Thrones chair.
   Ranjith, an Indian national, obviously feels a strong link to Tamils in Malaysia. Tamils are referred to as Indians in Malaysia, and they first came to Malaysia to work as labourers before the nation achieved independence from Britain in 1957.

    Rajinikanth plays Kabali, who came to Malaysia from India to work in an oil palm plantation, where he meets Kumudhavalli (Bollywood actress Radhika Apte), who will become his wife. He fights for the rights of workers and demands better benefits from the white plantation owner.
   The film opens with Kabali, in prison and about to be released after 25 years, reading My Father Baliah by Y.B. Satyanarayana, about his father's struggles to raise him and his siblings and give them an education despite them facing discrimination for being Dalits.
  Viewers who Googled this book will make the connection to Tamils in Malaysia facing obstacles and discrimination in getting a good education. This is reinforced in a scene where a Tamil student tells Kabali that she can't get a good education despite studying hard.
Kabali (left) gets into the thick of things.
  Kabali is also seen doing pull-ups effortlessly in prison. These two acts tell viewers that he's been keeping his mind intellectually fit and his body physically fit despite his long sojourn in prison.
   He steps out of prison and from that moment onwards, he's always seen in a coat, the reason for which is explained at the end of the film.
    Education plays a vital role in this film, for Kabali is soon taken to a school funded by him. The Tamil students look up to him in awe, and it's interesting to note the sprinkling of a few female Malay Muslims in the crowd, and it's even more interesting to note the complete absence of Chinese.
   Kabali's also taken on a trip through low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur, where male Tamil dancers sing in English about Tamil pride.
    Then, after Kabali makes a courtesy call on a gangster in a pet-cum-bird shop, he frees the caged birds, telling them that they should be free. This hackneyed scene tells viewers early on where the director's loyalty lies.
   However, the gangster conflict plot is weak as viewers would have seen numerous plots about gangster rivalry.
   The director may have also made a mistake in having a Chinese Malaysian playing Kabali's rival.
Radhika Apte and Rajinikanth.
Kabali's dispute with Tony Lee (Taiwanese actor Winston Chao) dates back to before he was in jail, and I presume their rivalry is supposed to depict the alleged tension between Tamils and Chinese. Lee, by the way, has a Tamil and Malay (Rosyam Nor) sidekick.
    Viewers will see Kabali ranting at the end when their stand-off culminates in an exchange of blows and shots on a rooftop with the glamorous Petronas Twin Towers in the background.
   I'm not sure why the director saw it wise to pit Tamils against Chinese, the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia.
   Perhaps he didn't want to upset Malays, who have political power but lack economic prowess, so he picked on Chinese, who have little political power but have 38 people in Forbes's 2016 list of the 50 richest Malaysians, including seven in the top 10.
   Non-Malaysians will not bat an eyelid at this discrepancy, but Malaysians will baulk at this gross error.  The director should have done better research and find out the target of Tamils's ire.
  He should have known that the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) had organised a rally in 2007 in Kuala Lumpur to protest alleged discriminatory policies that favoured Malays.
Kabali gets people's attention.
   Meanwhile, how does Radhika fare next to 66-year-old Rajinikanth? She doesn't age an iota, not even after 25 years. Also, the circumstances that led to her character's disappearance are unbelievable, but I liked how Kabali's daughter was introduced to viewers.
  Both of them are just background details in a film that focuses on the plight of Tamils in Malaysia.
  Kabali is a nice fantasy that allows Tamils to express their discontent. The film also allows them to imagine being at the top of society, regardless if it's illegal.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars



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