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A LOT has been said (much of it on surmise) and written about the film that even a word more could only be redundant. Yet till date all this has been about ``Baba'' in the making. But now at last it is curtains down on the larger-than-life publicity jig with the release of this Lotus International's magnum opus.

Probably it is this incredible hype that has boosted expectations again to unbelievable levels. Does the film live up to it?

Fantasy and fun, fibbing and faith, fiction and reality, graphics and gimmicks have all been mixed with politics and religiosity as undercurrents. Yet nothing emerges clear because the storywriter himself is confused about the course to be adopted.

With Rajinikanth at the helm (he is in charge of the story and screenplay, besides being ``Baba'' and producing the film) the project is a viable proposition indeed.

Baba is a child blessed by the great rishis and sadhus, particularly by the 2,000 year-old living sanyasi in the Himalayas, Babaji. The film goes on to a metaphysical, subconscious or even supernatural plane with Baba going to the Himalayas and meeting the great hermit, without even being completely aware of it. He is taught a mantra, which he could use seven times in his life and get whatever boon he asks for. It is a test by the Gods to know whether Baba would ask something for himself and thereby continue with the cycle of birth and death or be unselfish and put an end to being born again in this strife-torn world. Baba, an atheist at the outset, turns a realised soul and understands the greatness of the Supreme Being.

It is more a self-analysis and soul searching venture by Rajinikanth, on celluloid. And because the hero himself seems undecided about his choices, ``Baba'' leaves the viewer too, equally flummoxed.

There is a host of artistes helping to hold the ``Baba'' banner aloft. Sujatha, Vijayakumar, Sayaji Shinde, Sanghavi, Goundamani, Amrish Puri and many more. And of course there is Manisha Koirala. But when a line-up is spearheaded by Rajini, the others are mere appendages. Yet even there, Sujatha and Goundamani make an impression. Prabhudeva and Raghavendra Lawrence make an appearance in their capacity as choreographers. The inclusion of a Japanese face to the cast reveals the business acumen of the maker.

Sujatha, the mother of Baba, cries out that her son has no education — but why, you wonder. Because the initial affluence and euphoria witnessed on Baba's birthday make you feel that the family is far from poor. Later on she says that they would soon lose the big house they live in, but you are not told why. And again why the hero has to become a coolie is not explained. The screenplay jumps about leaving certain sequences rather vague.

``Maya...Maya...'' and ``Shakti Kodu'' are bound to be added to the long list of A.R. Rahman hits. Also certain quips and punch lines uttered with the right intonation are bound to go down well with Rajini fans.

A notable point about political references is that there is no mud slinging or blatant attack on any regime. Rajinikanth has tread on a sensitive track with diplomacy and care. Yet when political overtones and philosophical strains are knit together, the result can only confound you. ``Baba'' does exactly that. The climax tops it all — a Chief Minister chosen by Baba is shot dead even as Baba walks away from everything worldly, with a group of sadhus. The gunshot makes him turn around symbolically — probably to return to what he wants to leave ... the people around him clap their hands in glee. The death of the CM is not at all a matter of concern to anyone around! Again confusion rules the roost.

"Baba" is director Suresh Krissna's fourth film with Rajinikanth. Comparisons are odious but inevitable too. You tend to think of ``Badsha'' even as you watch ``Baba'' and you wonder at the magic of the former, which still remains unsurpassed.


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