Wagah – A Borderline Drama

I say the film is a ‘border’line drama only for the pun. The film is much lower than that; at least, the end product is, because what director Kumaravel has hoped to bring on screen is an interesting premise, but what we are shown is… you will know.

Firstly, what spurred my interest to catch the film was that it was about an Indian soldier’s love for a Pakistani girl, set in the tense and ‘priceless’ (the film says, and so it appears) Wagah border separating India and Pakistan. Well, a clichéd one-liner certainly, but the director had come carrying on his shoulder the critical acclaim of his maiden venture, Haridas, which I still haven’t seen, but believe is a good film.

Wagah starts with Vasu (Vikram Prabhu) in a Pakistani jail, beaten up to bleed all his blood for having tried to escape. He is a BSF Jawan who has gone missing at the border, and in the jail, we see hope in his eyes. Flashback. Vasu is not an ideal man. He is careless and fun-loving, and even disrespects the national flag in the school assembly… as his eyes were on the girl he is attracted to. When he grows up, he wants to join the Indian Army just so that he could drink cold beer at a discounted price while rolling on Kashmiri ice with no dress (all his words).

God save our country, he is inducted into the training program, and after a few weeks, is given what I think is an AK-47, and posted at the border. Just after two days, he loses interest in his job and goes mad owing to the solitude of the ice-capped mountains and lush green ground. Right when he totally loses interest in his life he accidently meets Kanum (Ranya Roy), and falls in love with her. From this point, the only thing that makes him stay in his job is his love for that girl and his frequent evening trips to the nearby village where she stays. A great premise indeed! What the director could have done to further the story… How he could have taken the character arc of Vasu… There is so much potential, so many interesting internal and external conflicts to explore, but sadly, and sometimes frustratingly, the film wants to be as careless as its lead character.

There is very poor writing for the heroine. We know her true story only at the interval point. So much screen time is wasted on back-to-back songs that don’t stick at all. Interestingly, the only tune that seems slightly likeable is the one that comes after Vasu is captured by the Pakistan Army.

Another thread that seems interesting is Vasu’s stay in the jail. His co-prisoners are jingoistic men from the Indian Army, and he is the only guy who doesn’t care about his country or its protection. He still wants to escape only for his girl, and this only irks the men there. When Vasu is pitted to fight against an Indian officer, and is told that he can escape death only if wins the fight, everyone wants Vasu to die and the other officer to win and escape the disgraceful death waiting at the end.

How he escapes this prison, which is run illegally, is what we are shown soon after, but even the escape is so bland that we want Vasu to get shot in the forehead and the film to end. But we are asked to gape at an action sequence where he dodges bullets and other firepower so easily and comes out alive to expose the illegal jail run by the Pakistani army, not without a preachy message directed at the villain about nationalism, conflicts between neighbouring nations and how they are fuelled by superpowers like America. All this in the foreground of a patriotic composition beginning with Vande mataram…

God save our country, and cinema.

KABALI – A REVIEW

kabali-movie-review

I must admit I am a Chennaite and yet have only just realised the intensity of a Rajini release – thanks to Pa. Ranjith’s much-hyped Kabali. Though the posters, singles and fan-made sketches were doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter (not to mention my office and neighbourhood) I caught the Kabali fever only a couple of days prior to the release – not a fatal illness, as in the case of many of the demigod’s fans, but just a mild, paracetamol-curable fever.

You must have understood by this time that I am not a fan of Rajini, nor his ‘style’, which is so blandly recurrent in all his cinematic ventures; but yes, I do respect the personal side of the man, and importantly his decision to shed his filmy image while stepping out of the screen, and appear just as he truly is.

The Kabali fever, however, blanketed me more from Santhosh Narayan’s ‘Neruppu da’ than from Rajini’s newly defined look for the film; the latter did make a substantial contribution though. The more I was listening to the song, the more I realised Kabali occupying my mind and, regrettably, the little time I had outside of my work.

Thankfully, my company decided to takeus all for a corporate show when the film released. We were booked for the weekend show immediately following the Friday release of the film, much to the envy of countless of the star’s fans who had felt cheated out by the bulk-bookings of the corporate giants  in and around Chennai. I stepped into the theatre expecting the film to satisfy me wholly and convince me enough  that I become a Rajini fan too, vaguely feeling left out from the crowd of my colleagues engaged in a feverish discussion about the ‘Man in the Suit’. From the moment the film started playing, there were claps and ‘Oooohhs’ emerging from all around me (mostly for the wrong scenes), but I brought my hands together, a few times, only to rub my palms against one another to wade of the freezing chillness that the walls of the theatre were giving away.

The film is not your typical Rajini film. You have the star sporting greyish beard. You have him walking at only the pace permitted by his age. More significantly, you don’t have infuriating punch dialogues, or surreal dance sequences with a woman more suitable to play his daughter than heroine. It is the film of a Malaysian-Tamilian who rises from being a mere worker raising his voice to demand more salary for Tamilian estate workers to becoming a revolutionary figure for the holistic upliftment of all Tamils in Malaysia; though what he does to get to that level other than joining a prominent revolutionary (Nasser in a short role) is left for us to figure out. Also left in darkness is what Kabali does after becoming that revolutionary. How does he support his kindred? How does he fight the growing menace of drugs and child-trafficking? Does he keep in touch with the outside world and its progress (or deterioration) while in prison for crimes that he didn’t commit? It is all very nebulous. We even have an introductory song with a cohort of Tamils singing and dancing and celebrating the release of Kabali – a man they had as their leader for just two years and had not seen for the next 25 years.

Now what the man does after coming out is the story. His wife and the child within her are killed by the bad guys before packing Kabali off to prison. So now in addition to the existing plot thread of protection and upliftment of Tamils, we have a familial thread for Kabali to hang onto. The initial scenes after his release where he reminisces his beautiful past with his wife (Radhika Apte in a grippingly emotional role) are superbly conceived and shot. Next, he learns of the growth and spread of a rival gang called ‘43’, and then goes to one of its top members to talk him out of selling drugs. It is here that he learns of the possibility that his wife could still be breathing, and thus starts Kabali’s search for Kumudhavalli. And this is what could have been pursued till the end. The flashbacks that tell the story of his life with  Kumudhavalli, and how she mentors the rough and sartorially mindless Kabali to transform him into a figure that the masses could come to respect are neat, but lacking. How the simple hothead Kabali becomes ‘The Kabali’ could have included his revolutionary story too, so that we could at least understand the people’s care for the man, and also wish him to win in the war against the dogmatic Malaysian businessmen. But we are only shown Kabali’s love for his wife, not of his fight for the Tamils. So that makes us wish for Kabali to find his wife soon, it makes our eyes well up with happy tears when the duo finally meet (oh yes, his wife is alive!), but it does not make us cry our heart out when he destroys the business of his rival. And that too is done in the climax in a way that could have been executed anytime during his stay in Malaysia, even after coming out of prison, but we are asked to wait till the climax for the Tarantino-style execution.

What really stands throughout the film is Kabali’s love for Kumudhavalli, and the powerful acting of Apte. The many backstabbings within and across gangs, the heavy but vain attempts of the villain to kill Kabali and his family, and even the bullets-flying denouement fail to attract any sincere attention. The screenplay is a rollercoaster with slow-paced scenes unapologetically coupled with racy action that play no part in the progress of the story.

Kabali, in all, merits our 120 rupees only for the sake of Rajini’s first major on-screen change (to quote Mr Baradwaj Rangan, ‘Rajinikanth does more for the movie than the movie does for him’); okay, let’s be good enough and include the excellent acting of Apte also. But at the end, every serious filmgoer would be left wondering how better the film could have been.