As a child, several of Kollywood’s motifs used to puzzle me. For example, how do fathers and sons look identical in films except for a dash of grey in the former? (A trend heavily popularised by Shivaji Ganesan and Supreme Star Sarathkumar.) In this week’s release Kaali, Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi gives an interesting take on why this happens. Vijay Antony (Bharat) is an NRI doctor who comes to India in search of his biological parents. In the journey, he listens to the stories of men who could be his prospective fathers. The first time the film gets into the flashback mode, we see a younger Madhusudhanan Rao (who is narrating the story). “Indha face a student a imagine panni kuda paka mudila,” says Yogi Babu and then we see Vijay Antony assume the role in the flashback. I realised that Vijay Antony’s several looks are a choice of convenience and of course, with some creative relevance as well.
Kaali would have been more effective had it been an anthology of three stories of estranged love set in late 1980s, where society plays the devil. Caste and communal violence are dominant themes in all these stories. Kiruthiga seems to be fascinated with the idea of saddening irony — the core of Romeo-Juliet’s story but with a Devdas-que twist. We have a pining survivor here to tell the story. One of the episodes has an unhappily married woman who fall for a thief almost instantaneously. But is it that simple, especially in the societal construct that was in place back then? In theory, this was the most interesting story. But the characters needed to be more rooted for us to make a convincing transition into their universe. Rob them of their nuances and they appear shallow. In fact, this is something that plagues the entire film. There is a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ and thus, we end up with a lot of ‘plausible but not probable’ moments.
The person I loved the most in Kaali is undoubtedly Yogi Babu. For several decades, the hero’s constant companion has been the comedian who is placed there so that the storyline can organically be infused with comic relief. And in recent times, Yogi Babu has been an unconventional but an effective choice. The comedian seemed to have had a riot when dubbing for the film. Several laugh-out-loud lines come when we can’t see the comedian mouth the lines. Not that I am complaining. There is also the case of Yogi Babu and his curious choice of t-shirts that are funny but don’t make sense to the story’s ambiance. A loafer in a small hamlet wearing t-shirts that read ‘Round is a shape’ and ‘Sorry girls, I only date models’? Maybe a future chance for some in-film branding if T-shirt companies are listening.