“Kalki 2898 AD Is A Whopping Spectacle Filled With Sound & Fury Signifying Something” – A Subhash K Jha Review

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Directed by: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Kamal Haasan, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone & Disha Patani

It’s been a long wait for this repeatedly postponed big-screen epic buoyed by an eye-catching grandeur and pickled by a passionate penchant for hand-to-hand combats.

The wait, as they say, has been worth its weight in bold.

With Kalki 2898 AD, Indian cinema reaches a new threshold of optical opulence. To say that every frame of this film exudes an apogean density would be an understatement. To also say that this is Amitabh Bachchan’s best-written role in years—after being grossly misused in a series of recent films—would be stating the obvious.

There is a fine line dividing visual resplendence from an emotional intensity. Director Nag Ashwin who has also written the sprawling screenplay, walks that line achieving a rare synthesis of perilous stunts and a deeply moving story of a pregnant woman trying to protect her child from apocalyptic marauders in a futuristic tryst with mythology.

The profound connection drawn between the principal characters of the Mahabharat and their futuristic avatars is never overdone. Director Nag Ashwin proves himself the master of measured epicness. Many times, you feel he is heading into an excessively overdesigned action mode. But then he pulls back just in time, creating a kind of orgasmic control where less is definitely more.

Then again, at other times, the action sequences, hugely inspired by George Miller’s Mad Max series, overstay their welcome. The primary contender for the can-we-stop-now-please immoderation is Prabhas’ introductory fight, which is clearly inspired by Jackie Chan’s amusement poke …you know, snoozing in the middle of a ferocious fight to confuse his adversaries, stopping mid-punch for a chat with Ram Gopal Varma (I kid you not) who plays a streetside food vendor named (I kid you not) Chintu. Editor Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao needed to be less indulgent with some of the action before the interval.

Varma as Chintu is not the least amusing. The same goes for Rajamouli, who shows up in the toasted-brown desert-scape chase sequence(clearly modeled on Mad Max Fury Road) probably for the fun ride. These distractions tend to chip away at the heart of the plot, which beats at a rapid pace and indicates a state of visual virility never seen before in Indian cinema. I know everyone probably wanted to be part of what they clearly saw as a landmark film. But guys, you are getting in the way.

The kinetic storytelling is anchored largely by Amitabh Bachchan’s Ashwathama tasked by destiny to protect a womb with a view into a peaceful future. A lot of the super-human hefting that he is made to in in the screenplay recalls his one-man-against-the-world casting in the past. It is an ingenious piece of casting and one that only a visionary director can think of.

For sure, Nag Ashwin is a master creator, plunging into the bowels of a dystopian dissension that is at once feral and tender. The tenderness comes in the gentle, graceful presence of Deepika Padukone. She is the mother, the womb which needs to be protected from harm if the world is to survive. She is passionately parabolic and yet so human, frail, and vulnerable!

Deepika’s bonding with the livewire Kaira (Anna Ben, superb) is one of the highlights of this giant of a cinematic achievement.

The film merits a standing ovation for taking Indian cinema, kicking and dragging, to an international level without making a song and dance of it. There is no singing and dancing in the three-hour storytelling, except for Prabhas breaking into a jig in the middle of a mortal combat. Rolling of the eyes.

Prabhas is the comic relief of Kalki, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. He is self-deprecatory in his street wisdom in a film filled with an ancient wisdom and a futuristic pride. The film is shot by cinematographer Djordje Stojiljkovic as if apocalypse was a poetic condition camouflaged in despoliation.

In spite of an incoherent first-half Kalki leaves us with a deep impression, largely for the way Amitabh Bachchan’s Ashwathama has been projected. Kamal Haasan’s creepy part as some kind of evil messiah, lasts for barely ten minutes. His prosthetics are so elaborate it is hard to tell whether the actors are active or just the makeup.

Our Rating

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