Kaali: Bizarre writing in a film that tests your patience

I’m tempted to think of Kaali as the film in which Vijay Antony one-upped Kamal Haasan. Oh, no, no, definitely not in terms of acting acumen, but insofar as playing a number of characters is concerned. Dasavatharam, for instance, is perhaps best remembered for Kamal playing ten characters, including that of an old woman, George Bush, and a Japanese man. In Kaali, apart from playing the titular character — a doctor who returns to India to find his parents — Vijay Antony plays a thief, a church father, and a local village head. He plays these characters in flashback stories so uninventive that you get all restless and itching to jog about for a bit, to avoid the feeling of being stuck. I could have forgiven the conceit of having the lead actor play all these characters, if competent actors had not been cast in their places. The thief, father, and village head are played by Nasser, Jayaprakash, and Madhusudhan Rao respectively, and when there’s even a small bit at the beginning of Madhusudhan’s flashback portion, when he’s shown to be a collegegoer. I sat up. It isn’t every day you get a senior character artiste getting a chance to do something like this, but then again, the sprightly Yogi Babu, playing Kaali’s sidekick, throws a quick insult as the narrator, and that’s cue for Vijay Antony to replace him in the flashback. It’s a bizarre choice, because in these flashback narratives, Kaali’s actually trying to unearth the truth about the identity of his parents. So, you have the very uncomfortable visual of seeing the character — playing his likely father — romancing his mother. It’s just… bizarre.

Kaali
Cast: Vijay Antony, Sunaina, Anjali, Nasser, Jayaprakash, Madhusudhan Rao

After the first drawn-out flashback portion turns out to be a red herring, you begin to wake up to the scary possibility that the writer-director Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi may well be toying with you, and not in a good way at all. You get introduced to backstories that turn out to be quite unproductive for the purposes of the story. And they come with their respective climaxes, their duets. The only way I can imagine it would have worked is if the treatment had been tongue-in-cheek. In its present state, it does very little except serve to give Vijay Antony the opportunity to try out various characters and their respective get-ups. Truth be told, his range quite gets in the way of all the variety such writing is likely aimed at drawing out. His music, on the other hand, works, and almost seems too deep for the film.

You can see Kiruthiga isn’t particularly concerned about the identity of Kaali’s parents. She’s trying to tell you the bigger return-to-the-roots story of an NRI — whose English accent, by the way, hardly indicates that he’s been living in the US since childhood. However, given that such a story is trivialised by TASMAC fights, forced comedy, simplistic caste lessons, and stalling duets, it’s hard to be moved. After a point, I felt so detached that I began reading the captions on Yogi Babu’s tees to keep me entertained. ‘I’m a virgin. This is an old t-shirt,’ read one. ‘Sorry girls, I only date models,’ read another. There was one that read, ‘Where’s the food?’ Its acronym perhaps best summarises my reaction to this bizarre story and its false flashbacks.

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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