The geography is different but the context is the same. The official trailer of Kaala shows Rajinikanth’s character beseeching the people of the Dharavi slum, where the movie is set, to revolt. “Our body is our only weapon. We will show this to the world. Call all our people,” Kaala commands.
Cut from the filmy sets of Mumbai to Tamil Nadu, where the people of Tuticorin too showed that their body is their only weapon. Last week, 13 people were shot dead by the police when they protested against the polluting Sterlite copper plant that has led to serious health and environmental hazards. In the last two decades that the factory has been in operation, Tuticorin has reported several cases of cancer, skin diseases, respiratory issues and water pollution. It has been a civil society protest for the very basics in life.
In a real world, Kaala-speak could have been Rajinikanth speaking. As he prepares for his political innings, with his party in the works, Rajini would imagine himself as the voice that could spark a million mutinies. A la Tuticorin, Kaala is his attempt to take his audience into his world of make-believe and convince them he can be their Thalaivar.
On Monday, Edappadi Palaniswami announced his government’s decision to shut down the plant permanently. But while the Tamil Nadu chief minister indulged in posturing to take credit for the move, the fact of the matter is that he did not do so of his own volition. His hand was forced by the blood his men without uniform spilled on the streets of Tuticorin.
It cannot be a coincidence that Rajinikanth, the politician, tweeted his audio message to the news of Sterlite closure, calling it a victory of those who sacrificed their lives for the cause. The political tweet at 7:12 pm was followed by son-in-law and Kaala producer Dhanush tweeting the movie trailer at 7:15 pm. Lest anyone accuse Rajinikanth of being politically incorrect.
Like he says in Kaala, the body was the only weapon for the people of Tuticorin. Despite his penchant to revel in politically loaded punch dialogues in his movies right from the 1990s, reel and real never intertwined so much in any Rajini movie before.
Kaala, from what is on show in the trailers, is pretty much a political launchpad, showcasing Rajini as the man of the masses, the saviour of the downtrodden. It is a template used successfully by MGR in the past and like the AIADMK founder, Rajini finds nothing wrong in using the big screen as his campaign vehicle.
From what one can make out from the two trailers of Kaala released so far, director Pa Ranjith has turned conventional good and bad, hero and villain on its head. Kaala is black, a colour usually associated with evil while the real antagonist, Nana Patekar is shown in pristine whites. Patekar says Kaala is in fact Raavan, an evil in his book who must be crushed. But the Raavan in Kaala is the one who fights for the underdog.
The trailer clearly indicates the Ramayana undertones to Kaala. Patekar’s politician character wants to establish `Dandakaranya Nagar’. The name is significant because according to mythology, Rama, Sita and Laxman spent 13 of the 14 years of their exile in the Dandakaranya forest, which is the modern day Bastar in south Chhattisgarh. It is here that Raavan abducted Sita.
The politician in Kaala therefore seems to symbolise Ram Rajya. But in this travesty of a Ram Rajya, there is no place for the downtrodden, for the `dirt’ as Patekar calls the slum dwellers. So Nana ‘Ram’ Patekar, in order to spread light, apparently gets the slum burnt down. It is a clash between this fire and the fiery character of Kaala.
How the Hindi audience reacts to this interpretation of the Ramayana will be interesting to watch. In versions of the Ramayana in south India, Raavan is not quite the demon he is made out to be in Valmiki’s version.
Patekar is the politician who says he wants to make this country clean and pure, a cinematic version of Swachh Bharat. Kaala’s defence is that the slum is where even dirt looks colourful. Ditto in the real world of Tamil Nadu, which is Rajinikanth’s political karmabhoomi. Here the political leadership since 1996 is accused of not being sympathetic to the demands of the people of Tuticorin. Which is why polluting industry was seen as clean and pure and the protesting villagers as dirt.
A few months back, Rajinikanth said the system must be set right first. Kaala makes the same point. That vested interests have done a “setting” in order to retain their hold over the system.
“What kind of a name is Kaala?” Patekar asks Rajini in the trailer. Rajinikanth, the neta, may want to tell him that a Rajini by any other name would be called a Kaala.
Watch the trailer below: