‘Kabzaa’ movie review: Upendra’s action-drama is a dreary, tepid ‘KGF’ rehash

Upendra’s gangster drama is similar to ‘KGF’ in more than just the looks, flavour, and genre; it’s a rip-off loaded with empty shells of everything that made Prashanth Neel’s films enjoyable

Updated - March 17, 2023 07:01 pm IST

Published - March 17, 2023 04:02 pm IST

Upendra in a still from ‘Kabza’

Upendra in a still from ‘Kabza’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Let’s first get this out of the way — even before its release, Kabzaa was expected to be like Yash’s KGF in terms of looks, genre, flavour, and in being a story that charts the rise of a gangster. Lead star Upendra himself stated that director R Chandru was inspired by the two Prashanth Neel films. But Kabzaa makes one wonder if ‘inspiration’ was an understatement, for the entirety of the film, from start to finish, feels like a rushed KGF rip-off loaded with empty shells of everything that made Neel’s films enjoyable masala cinema.

For god knows why and how, top cop Bhargav Bakshi (Kichcha Sudeepa takes over Anant Nag’s role from KGF) has rounded up all the goons in the city and proceeds to (once again, god knows why) tell the story of a yesteryear gangster. He begins the story in 1945 when a young woman (Sudha) is forced to flee the North Indian city of Sankara Nagara with her two boys — Arkeshwara and Sankeshwara — after her freedom fighter husband Amareshwara gets killed by enemy forces. The three reach the Southern Indian town of Amarapura where they start a humble life as flag sellers.

Decades go by, and Arkeshwara (Upendra) becomes an Air Force officer. Parallely, we are introduced to a political war that is brewing between Amarapura’s ruler Veer Bahadur (Murali Sharma) and Khaleed Bhai, the head of a mafia that has a never-ending hierarchy. We also realise that Arkeshwara is in love with Veer’s only daughter Madhumathi (Shriya Saran). Things seemingly take a turn when Khaleed’s son comes to town and kills an innocent woman on the street to show off his power, only to bite a bullet from Sankeswara. Filled with wrath, Khaleeds kills Sankeshwara... and this sets off Arkeshwara a.k.a Arka. Everything that follows happens as per the easiest predictions one can make based on this storyline.

Kabzaa (Kannada)
Director: R Chandru
Cast: Upendra, Kichcha Sudeepa, Shriya Saran, Murali Sharma, Sudha
Runtime: 136 minutes
Storyline: An Indian Air Force officer becomes a tool of violence amidst a tense political battle and ascends to the top to become a mafia lord

A gangster who fights all odds and rises to the top is by itself an outdated base for a story, needing other unique elements to pique interest. But what we end up seeing in Kabzaa is a series of shoot-outs and action scenes through which Arka kills literally anyone and everyone he faces off against, as if it’s a video game with back-to-back boss missions.

The film is so flat that you feel no real connection to the characters or the proceedings. There is never a moment where we care about Arka’s fate. Probably the only interesting detour from KGF is the fact that, unlike Rocky Bhai, Arka is shown in the beginning as a man of law who believed in justice. The characters of Shriya and Sudha (a mother who gives free license to fight fire with fire) find even lesser importance in the narrative than Srinidhi Shetty’s in KGF.

From the editing techniques used, like a dark pause before a hyper-fast action piece, to the action synchronising to the cuts, the use of similar-sounding songs, and too many men growling aloud in rage at random circumstances, as well Arka uttering punchlines straight out of Rocky Bhai’s dictionary, there is just way too much that reminds us of the KGF films. Almost all action sequences in this film use the editing technique used in KGF: Chapter 2’s car chase scene where the frames are intercut with brief dark pauses

These techniques worked when they all came together well to aid Prashanth Neel’s innovative over-the-top ideas. But Kabzaa falls short in both innovation and writing even the most basic masala moments you would expect in a commercial film of this scale. The screenplay also never gives space for the audience to immerse themselves into this world and for the story to keep them engaged.

Kabzaa also suffers in the technical aspects as well. While Ravi Basrur’s score is as great as always, there seems to be something wrong with the sound mixing. For instance, before you can hear the name of a new character, the loud background score begins and immediately drowns down the pivotal dialogues. The tacky VFX is another distraction in this film.

Any story needs an intriguing set-up in the beginning that triggers a journey towards an end. Or, it can chart out the inner journey of a character from one point to the other. In Kabzaa, neither is the case; much of the first half of the film is spent on setting up the story and in Arka’s battle with Khaleed, after which the intermission arrives. Then, before finishing any of the arcs that eventually begin in the second half, Kabzaa ends and asks us to wait for the second part. Upendra, for all that he brings to the table, deserves a better film in Kabzaa 2.

Kabzaa is currently running in theatres

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