‘Darbar’ doesn’t work, but it proves brand Rajinikanth still can — and how

After watching the Superstar’s latest, one finds that his age is actually an advantage. Now, all he needs is a director who can write a script with his heart and brains

The last Rajinikanth film I liked was ‘Padayappa’ and that’s two decades old.

The graph has been sliding steadily downhill after a couple of upward spikes: like portions of ‘Sivaji’ and ‘Endhiran’. ‘Padayappa’ had all the ingredients you expect from his movies in the right proportions mixed to perfection by a director who knew how long to let it simmer. The antagonist was female, but what she lacked in muscle was compensated for with guile and cunning. It had respect, love, obsession, betrayal of trust and good eventually triumphing over evil. The performances were terrific with the protagonist and antagonist ageing gracefully and their final verbal face-off eliciting deafening applause. I also suspect it’s the last film Rajini sported his own mane, as the young Padayappa.

January 12th this year, marked the 25th anniversary of the epochal ‘Baashha’, which sent the superstar’s fans into an unparalleled frenzy. Loosely based on the Hindi blockbuster ‘Hum’ in which Rajini too co-starred Amitabh, the transformation of a seemingly timid auto driver when his family is provoked and the unravelling of a violent past is still the reference point for most aspiring directors. Any script with slight similarities reminds you of ‘Baashha’.

‘Darbar’ doesn’t work, but it proves brand Rajinikanth still can — and how

KS Ravi Kumar and Suresh Krissna are two of the very few directors who’ve directed Rajini and Kamal quite comfortably and successfully. If Suresh had ‘Sathya’ (Debut), and ‘Indhiran Chandiran’ with Kamal, he made ‘Annamalai’ and ‘Baasha’ with Rajni. Likewise, Ravi Kumar directed ‘Avvai Shanmughi’ and ‘Tenali’ with Kamal and ‘Muthu’ and ‘Padayappa’ with Rajni to name a couple. They directed turkeys too like ‘Baba’, ‘Lingaa’ and ‘Aalavandhan’ but their success rate was terrific. Of course, the only director who effortlessly elicited first-rate performances from Rajini and Kamal without compromising on his cinematic sensibilities was Mani Ratnam. A section of Rajini’s fans were disappointed that he had to play another star’s underling, but the superstar loved the experience and even told Mani he was eagerly awaiting another offer.

Well, coming to the point, it’s not easy directing a film with a superstar, especially someone like Rajini with a fanatical fan-following. They don’t expect him to do anything drastically different, but know exactly what they want. For them change is not a constant but a concern. Every wannabe director worth his megaphone dreams of directing the Superstar, but when he does get the chance seems unable to write scenes which would evoke shrill, appreciative whistles. The anxiety to deliver is both overwhelming and frightening. Now here’s a star whose films are looked forward to with unwavering, even growing enthusiasm 45 years since he made his debut. The fire K. Balachander saw in his eyes may be flickering, but is still enough to evoke fear in the most dreaded filmi foe. His remuneration has steadily increased and is at a record high of 100 crore if reports are true, and that too after a string of flops by his standards. But as far as his fans are concerned, they just can’t get enough of him. The onus is on the director to deliver which hasn’t happened in the recent past.

Even A.R. Murugadoss who’s churned out money-spinners with other superstars and claimed it was his dream to direct Rajini (he was saying that about Kamal too), falters and fails miserably. He’s known to have a large think tank of writers but what they have concocted for the superstar is mostly unpalatable. After ‘Kabali’, ‘Darbar’ was the Rajni starrer that had fans waiting with bated breath because Murugadoss dangles a contemporary social ill which the protagonist fights while vanquishing the perpetrators.

But ‘Darbar’ just doesn’t have a strong premise. Seriously, the Superstar’s shrewd selection of scripts has been suspect in the last decade, at least most of them. Murugadoss shows scant respect for the sensibilities of Rajnii’s fans and since he claims to be his biggest admirer, ‘Darbar’ is an insult. Logic is not the only thing missing. It’s sheer common sense and a total lack of understanding of the machinations in the police force. You can see the eagerness to inject situations that appeal and also keep the ambiguity about his age intact.

‘Darbar’ doesn’t work, but it proves brand Rajinikanth still can — and how

What is lacking in the film is a straightforward, engaging plot. We get to endure a contrived rather than convincing fare. A gang of goons armed with guns of various sizes does not shoot, while a police commissioner confronts and slices them with Samurai swords. He locks up, threatens and coerces a Human Rights official into giving a favourable report. The press calls him a mad cop, but nobody even admonishes him as he goes trigger-happy shooting gangsters in public. He cracks a kidnapping, annihilates the drug mafia and busts a prostitution ring with elementary sleuthing skills. He has a daughter who wants him to marry because he’ll be lonely when she weds and leaves. So we have puerile attempts at wooing a beautiful lady who approaches the commissioner’s office to report a stalker. There’s an accident involving the father and daughter where their cab is mowed down by a truck. With only a couple of Band-Aids to show external wounds, an elderly doctor tells the girl she’s suffered subdural hematoma and calmly advises her to spend her last couple of hours with her father, who is lying unconscious. There are no suggestions of an emergency surgery or efforts of any kind to try and save her. The father regains consciousness to find his daughter dead and goes crazy which is the explanation for his mindless shooting. The improbable proceedings plod on till a tame confrontation in the climax.

This is Rajini’s most physically-strenuous film in recent years. I can’t remember him shaking a leg in so many songs with his trademark ‘karate’ steps. His presence is still magnetic, be it his graceful panther-like gait or the streak of mischief he infuses in the light scenes. He’s still a much better actor than the pretenders to his throne. Watch him in the scene where his beau’s cousin visits him and gently warns him about trying to impress her considering his age. In fact, it’s the best-written scene in the film. Then there’s his reaction when he watches his daughter conveying in a recording about a mild pain in the back of her scalp before she dies.

Rajini still can. I’d say his age is an advantage. He needs a director who can write a script where he uses his heart and brains, rather than just senseless banter and brawn. It’s time, there’s more soul than style.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 3:33:49 AM |

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