Rajinikanth, the superstar is alive and kicking in the trailer of his new film, rather racially referred to as Kaala. ‘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 Shot 1 of the trailer, is a formidable adversary for our hero. Rajini not only plays the hero of the farmers, a la Aamir Khan in Lagaan without the dhoti, he also takes on Patekar as only he can.
Interestingly Patekar plays a nuanced, scholarly adversary. So we can safely assume that this time Rajinikanth’s hero-giri won’t be offset by plain unalloyed evil. This is a more complex villain. Patekar 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 Patekar 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 (meaning the masses) it is life,” bellows Rajini to Patekar.
Why do I feel Patekar 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 Patekar’s Maharashtrian characters 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 Eswari Rao as Rajanikant’s “cutely bucolic” wife. They seem to share the same “cute” relationship that Rajinikant and Radhika Apte did in his last film Kabaali. Rajini is shown as an indulgent husband. But he’s 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.
Here's the trailer:
Rajinikant can get away with anything. He is the hero that Indian cinema deserves.