Sunday, February 11, 2024

Lal Salaam (2024)

I have two issues with this film, and the fault lies with the director, Aishwarya Rajinikanth. One, the incessant to and fro flashback (I call it flashbackitis, a disease that has long afflicted Tamil films) that at times you are not even sure which part of the narration you are in. 

Two, the voice over narration. It was not necessary (she did it herself, I could hear her dad's rhythm in her voice) as the audiences seemed to be able to understand what's going on. But then, considering the flashbacks can send you into a narrative spiral, it may be useful after all.

Otherwise, I loved the film. It's a decent, watchable and, at times, exciting. Rajinikanth is the third character, sort of important supporting role, but you know he is the hero despite his lesser screen time this time around. 

In fact, he is not new in playing cameo roles, and appearing as a guest start in the past, and in almost all of them, he stole the show right under the leads respective noses. He is dangerous that way. Kamal Haasan knows that. 

Speaking of which, I actually caught the glimpse of that naughty, free-for-all Rajini of Ninathale Inikkum (1979) in a scene here where he is joyously flinging the murukkus and palagarams. Really, if you are a long time fan, take a look.

Coming back to the flick, Aishwarya Rajinikanth manages to ride the slippery slope of having the audience investing emotionally on the characters – not on the faction, i.e, religion. It doesn't go on Ram Rahim Robert path of elementary  level national unity preaches. It says things as it is. It doesn't take side. 

Following 3 (Moonu), her directorial debut, Aishwarya should have named this 2. Because it involves two main leads, two religions, Islam and Hindu, and two villages. The friction that starts from cricket matches, leads straight to religious fracas,  and it is good to know that none of the factions are cast in bad light. Well, I would say the rotten ones are the Hindus here. The muslims are borderline stereotypes you see in most Tamil films, with those cotton beards and headwear. But they had characters.

In fact, during the opening fight sequence, Rajini's Moideen Bhai lets his right hand man to do the brawling – an older, kain pelikat and Kopiah wearing big guys who just flattened the opponents like Incredible Hulk. I really enjoyed that sequence.

And the riot scenes. Aishwarya captured them well, without having us lost geographically, and knowing well the fates of the characters at that moment. They are perhaps best shot sequences showcasing riots in that industry, which often tried to portray chaos but often lose out to low budget and poor planning. They look good here. Convincing. 

Speaking of convincing... everyone, I mean, everyone, even those lesser characters performed well. It's not easy and I am glad that whichever plot holes, or ridiculous narration (it's Tamil film, after all) notwithstanding, good performances from the actors can pull you into their world. And she even got the semi-retired comedian Senthil to give a strong, emotional performance. Bravo!!

The leads, Vikranth and Vishnu Vishal are believable, and is present throughout dividing the audiences in loyalty. Damn, that Vikranth guys is a much better actor than...oh, I better shut up.

The other thing which disappointed me was the background score. I refuse to believe that A.R. Rahman himself worked on that. The songs were strong, apt, and really were powerful, enhancing some of the scenes. But when it time for background score, the Rahman energy seemed to have petered out. 

Now, the man of the hour. One scene. One scene. He made me cry. Yeah. That's the power of Rajinikanth the actor, as opposed to the superstar. I am glad that in his twilight year, he is going back to his root and explore that original fire, the actual Rajinikanth – a powerful character actor. It's all over here. This is not a cameo or guest role, it is a lead role. You may not see him in many scenes, but his presence can be felt. 

I was prepared to be disappointed, thus lowering my expectations, But what the hell, I got involved. It's a good film. I know many will dis it, especially as the promotions and PR were pretty low-key, if you put aside the audio launch. But I love it. It's good. There are powerful moments, very consistent performance among the players and it didn't feel like the work of a director early in her career. Even if this flops, I know Aishwarya is ready to roll with the big guns. 

Additional note: I shared this as What's App status on 13/2/24: Most of the reviews of Lal Salaam are bad. Okay, I read them to find out what's the issues. It's the same issue that's rotting many Tamil films, nothing new. Then it struck me.  Of course! Rajini plays a Muslim leader, and the Muslims in the film are portrayed virtuously. Most of the f***ers who reviewed it are Hindu p****s. Ass that to a woman directing a film amidst toxic male worshipping industry. Of course, they wouldn't like the film. F**ktards! AthigamAna Asterisks payanpaduthalukku manikkavum.

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