‘Darbar’ movie review: A charismatic Rajinikanth shoulders an okayish masala movie

Rajinikanth in ‘Darbar’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is an inexplicable sense of gratification one gets when you watch Rajinikanth having fun on screen, especially when there is little meat involved. It is almost as if Rajini is saying: “Guys, this has been done to death. But this is what you ask of me, so here I am.” Rajinikanth, perhaps, is the only star in Indian cinema who has the power to make a weakly-written script watchable on some level. What has not been said/written about Rajinikanth everytime he flips his hair or puts on sunglasses in his inimitable style, or just takes a casual stroll that has the panache to shatter box-office records? In other words, there is nothing called an ‘unwatchable’ Rajinikanth movie — the decibel level of the audience for his introduction scene in Darbar is a testimony to that.


Darbar teases with newsreels of a “bad cop” called Aaditya Arunasalam (Rajinikanth), much before the customary hero introduction scene. We know who it is and tend to smile at the age-old technique of hold and play. Aaditya is an encounter specialist who goes on a killing rampage in Mumbai. His name sends shudders to the bhais of the underworld. A local don challenges him, paving the way for his entry. It is a superb construct with Anirudh Ravichander’s reworking of the Annamalai background score. But you sense something is missing in it. It definitely has sparks, but lacks fire... which can be said about the movie as a whole.


At the outset, one could argue that Darbar has the longest flashback in the history of Tamil movies released in the last few years; it comes to the present only in the last half hour or so. When Aaditya is deposited to Mumbai for a special task, he smells a drug network. The plot thickens when he discovers that Ajay Malhotra (a clueless Prateik Babbar), who is the son of a powerful businessman, is behind the drug racket. A well-orchestrated encounter leads Adithya to face-off against Hari Chopra (Suneil Shetty), who has a history of incinerating police officers.

  • Cast: Rajinikanth, Nayanthara, Nivetha Thomas, Yogi Babu, Prateik Babbar and Suniel Shetty
  • Director: AR Murugadoss
  • Storyline: Aaditya Arunasalam is a ruthless police officer who’s only mission is to make Mumbai clean and drug-free

There are too many issues that muddle Darbar from becoming an enjoyable masala movie, starting with Rajinikanth’s name. It is tough to imagine Rajini as Aaditya Arunasalam. Arunasalam, yes. But Aaditya? A name like Suriya would have been more appropriate, no? Another troubling aspect is the way AR Murugadoss uses and abuses the masala genre, with weakly-conceived ideas. For instance, there is a scene involving a proxy character, which is splendidly written and executed. But the pay-off is only satisfactory.

Masala movies had a renaissance period when Murugadoss made back-to-back solid blockbusters :Dheena, Ramana and Ghajini to name a few. He gave a new spin to the genre and reinvented the formula for its own good. What was Murugadoss’ strength up until Thuppakki is turning out to be his weakness. Darbar comes across as if the filmmaker hastily put together individual parts of the screenplay, without developing a sturdy foundation for the script. The film also lacks a strong emotional core, and the reason why you don’t buy into the father-daughter relationship, which is emotionless. A wonderfully cast Nivetha Thomas plays Rajinikanth’s daughter here.

The biggest issue — not with Darbar, but any Rajinikanth movie post Raghuvaran’s death — is the presence of an animated villain. In this case, Suniel Shetty. There is no other way to describe Rajinikanth without thinking about the effect Plutonium has. I am seriously considering the option of filing a petition to find a villain who could match the flamboyance of Rajinikanth. When you find a suitable match, we shall discuss what purpose does Nayanthara serve in the film.

Darbar alters between a masala and mass movie, offering very little substance for the demi-god that is Rajinikanth. It is a yet another depressing case where the star does more to the script than what it does to him. However, here is the flip side to the movie: it is, if anything, a celebration of a man who is nearly 70, and has been entertaining fans for four decades. There is a brief stretch in the second half, where Aaditya literally prepares for the final showdown. This involves Rajinikanth flexing his muscles and lifting heavy weights — reminding you of a dialogue from Padayappa. “What a man,” said Abbas. How true, we wonder.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 7:18:44 PM |

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