Kabali – the subtle and the not so subtle social message
Kabali has been the talk of the town for the last few weeks. Initially, it was all about the excitement and promotion around the movie and now the interpretation and analysis. If you have liked the movie you have liked it and if you haven’t liked it you haven’t. There is no right or wrong. Of the numerous of analysis being done, there are discussions on the burning social issue of Tamils in Malaysia. Some say it is all about Dalit upliftment while the director hasn’t clearly commented on any of these explicitly. This might be due to various reasons including commercial success and preventing a potential ban. Whatever be the reason now that the movie is out it is open to interpretation by each of us. The director has also left the climax open for interpretation. In this week’s Friday Fundas I would like to share my interpretations on the Kabali’s social message. Before you read on, this post contains spoilers and I recommend you to watch the movie before you read this. If you have come here looking for review on Kabali read it here
If your house maid walks in one day and asks her tea to be served in one of your favorite mugs, how would you react to it? Although the situation seems so simple the answer isn’t for many of us. Kabali nails the exact problem. The biggest message Kabali leaves is to emphasize on equality. Not just Dalit, not just Malaysian Tamils this would apply to any situation where inequality exists. Right from the teaser, the message has been driven strongly. Kabali is a stereotyped henchman or goon in the Villains gang who is shabbily dressed and does odd chores for the Villain. In the teaser we see such a Kabali in a most expensive suit and style. If you take the Rajini factor out, it would look odd for you. Since the movie was announced, till we got the first look, take a look at the fan-made posters for Kabali you would know what the perception had been. Once the first look was revealed Rajini’s mass factor stepped in. The dialogue in the teaser “Pazhaya Tamil Padangalla, inge maru vachukittu, meesaya murukki kittu, Nambiar dei Kabali nnu thum… Odi vanthu kaikatti sollunga Ejamannu nippane antha mathiri Kabalinnu nenachiyada… Kabali da..” which is now heard in almost every age group modified to suit various situations. If you see in all those modifications breaking the stereotype is the common factor. These stereotypes have become so much part of our life that it manifests itself to be the truth and way of life. Well, Kabali exactly questions this.
In the movie, Rajini’s make up is different compared to his other movies where they have made him look fairer. Here we see the good old Rajini we have seen in movies like Mullum Malarum and Thee. In the movie Kabali wears a gangsters attire until one day his wife asks him to wear a suit. He gets criticized at various points in the movie for his stylish attire. When he comes to Chennai with his daughter he is welcomed by a guy who looks like a goon. His daughter is extra cautious about the guy and his men while Kabali asks her daughter “What is there in the looks? A look cannot determine if a person is good or bad…” A very strong point, although she has come from the family who has fought inequality but since being the second generation gives way for the stereotypes. Basic human nature of having a reassurance of power and higher social status is in the sense of differentiation. Ranjith has also answered the question if violence is the only way to establish the equality. The climax of Kabali has the answer. Violence can never manifest equality. It is like curing the symptom and not the cause. The cause gets more worse as you treat symptoms. There are much more such subtle gems throughout the movie that hits you hard in the face.
Fighting against social stigma is not new for Rajini. The Rajini movies in the late 70s and early 80s mostly dealt with the social stigma. Mullum Malarum’s Kaali and Raja from Thee fight against this stigma. The stigma of being black, the stigma of being a thief’s son, the stigma against worker class people not having free flying thoughts. It worked well then as Rajini was not a superstar. But now Rajini being the demigod for many, the already subtle message of Kabali became much more subtle in front of his charisma. The sad fact is that Rajini can’t reprise his role of Kaali with the same naivety he used to during the late 70s. His superstardom has taken over this freedom. If you don’t believe look at the stark difference between his relationship with Sarat Babu in Mullum Malarum and Muthu. Although the economic inequality of the character is the same but the treatment is largely different. If not Muthu may not have worked.
Would Kabali’s social message have been more impactful if not for Rajinikanth? – is a difficult question to answer. I would say that if you watch Kabali in the new light of the social message of equality, forgetting Rajini’s superstardom you would relish it much more.
As a fan of Rajinikanth I wish he breaks much more stereotypes to give us different movies rather than getting caught into a template.