‘Kaala’ Rajinikanth, it seems, is the son of the soil. Dark (kaala) thoughts are vanquished as he seethes against those who toil to torment the farmer. He rages against the landlord played by Nana Patekar, who it is quite clear from the trailer’s first shot, is a formidable adversary for our hero. Rajinikanth not only plays the hero of the farmers a la Aamir Khan in “Lagaan” without the dhoti, he also takes on Nana as only he can.
Interestingly, Nana plays a nuanced, scholarly adversary. So we can safely assume that this time Rajinikanth’s herogiri won’t be offset by plain unalloyed evil. This is a more complex villain. Nana addresses the masses and refuses to be a snarling lip-curling villain. That he insisted on learning the Tamil language from scratch for this part is a measure of the actor’s diligent commitment to getting it right.
We can safely assume the confrontational episodes between Nana and Rajnikanth will give a centrifugal force to what otherwise looks like a film designed to exploit the plight of farmers by pinning their exploitation to a suave refined adversary.
“To you, land is power. To us, (the masses), it is life,” says Rajinikanth to Nana.
Why do I feel Nana would still get more applause than the hero in every state barring Tamil Nadu? Is the tenor of the trailer to blame for this unintentional leaning towards the wrong side?
At one point, Nana’s Maharashtrian character refers to Rajinikanth as ‘Raavan’. This is a subversive reading of the Ramayan popular in the south wherein Raavan is interpreted as a scholar and a nobleman who was destroyed by his passion for Sita.
Speaking of Rajini’s women, there is Easwari Rao as Rajinikanth’s “cutely bucolic” wife. They seem to share the same “cute” relationship that Rajinikanth and Radhika Apte did in his last film. Rajini is shown as an indulgent husband. But he is also shown to be courting another woman, played by Huma Qureshi (who of course speaks in a voice far removed from her own).
When you are the ‘Maharaja of The Masses’, you are entitled to your little side attractions. And you can be called “kaala” even if it sounds as racial as Roseanne Barr’s tweet that prompted her show on the ABC channel to be cancelled.
Rajinikanth can get away with anything. He is the hero that Indian cinema deserves.