Amidst much fanfare, now that Darbar has been watched, where exactly do I begin expressing myself? Hmmm…pass. I’m going to meander for a while, but I’m sure I’ll get going somewhere; eventually, like I did to the restroom twenty minutes before the long drawn out climax played out with the surprise of a giant trampling over a small furniture he was hiding behind.
First, when your pant is torn in the crotch from you trying to overstretch, it’s fine. It’s after all a battle scar of flexibility, albeit an embarrassing one, but still fine. Fine, till you start bending over repeatedly as light is shone upon. Second, due to an irrational amount of love, a toddler’s gibberish endears in the drawing room on a weekend morning. But the mushy feelings quickly wear thin, when the toddler in question climbs up a stage to do a concert, to which you find yourself buying tickets worth a functional kidney, the same weekend to only be held ransom by the perseverance of the said toddler. Third, now imagine the reverence evaporate from a majestic antique vehicle as it decides to leave the precincts of its display area at the museum to drive alongside contemporary vehicles on a Monday morning, while constantly huffing, puffing and choking up the roads to only break down at a signal. Follow my train, that’s the last of the abstract metaphors for now. I guess.
Now think of an ageing superstar who’s been around for twice your age and is sort of closing in on his second childhood onscreen, while trying to do younger things with elder faculties deceiving hard to be more robust than they actually are. Next, think of the compulsive need to buy tickets today as a result of the goodwill from a body of work, that designed zeitgeist around you while serving as a bookmark for episodes in your life. Rajini is many things- doyen, Thalaivar(not Thalaiva you Hindi speaking morons), an emotion in this part of the world, built systematically over decades of image conscious movies. And it is in the service of these run of the mill stories of David vs Goliath, that the super-stardom that he exerts today was given as a license to flex. Like any creative liberty worth its salt, this license was valid as far as it was in the service of a story- either to up the stakes, to volt up the drama or to humanise something out of the ordinary. When outside the film when in service of the star’s image alone, this license becomes vapid vanity. A untrue untruth peddled hard. This was the constant thought bouncing inside my head while watching Darbar. Instead of the superstar being in service of a film, this was a film in service of the superstar if the constant aural homage cues in the form of BGMs, the tip-toey reverential meta dialogues of characters around and the sheer unquestioned infallibility in ‘dire’ stretches were anything to go by.
While the warmth of nostalgia makes us go easy on the signature left-feeted steps of the superstar, it begins to frown after the second time. Same applies to the stunt sequences; while the fanboy in you has given a license to levitate for a brief bit intermittently, it’s really pushing things to operate permanently from a seven feet above level and swat hoodlums thrice your size from there with mosquito disdain. Nostalgia or not, why would you pummel dear gravity so much and expect to not be unintentionally funny?
And I understand the monumental task of introducing Thalaivar onscreen. While mere non committal shots of hands, legs, fingers, forehead and eyes are enough to titillate the crowd into a thick orgasm. The idea is to introduce his character in terms of his garden variety facets without giving much else away, like the profession he does(auto driver, milk man, labourer etc), his ability to break a pumpkin with mere head, his fondness to an ilk or an animal or a reptile among other things. Here I was shocked to see a major spoiler handed over in the form of a pivotal character’s death at the very beginning, to only render the introduction massy. The introduction wouldn’t have missed a beat without this this give away, but still precious information is littered for the heck of it. This robs the story of an element of shock at a critical juncture, which we now see coming from a distance.
And don’t even get me started on the bad guys. They are wooden-faced and funeral-serious, each one of them, even in their own birthday parties where they are dressed as Viking merchants in suburban Juhu resorts. They could’ve instead worn t-shirts with prints that read “menacing” and still looked less corny. These are the kind of men, on seeing their faces, one might think they’re in fact conducting a surgical strike when in actuality are waiting for their Uber rides. And also they tend to be unintentionally hilarious, like this time Sunil Shetty with a post coital face is shown performing a hysterectomy with a diabolic looking knife with which he stabs a man in his gut, to only realise that he did not possess an uterus after all. Now that I think about it in hindsight, it is in sync with the spirit of the entire movie, which itself felt like a colonoscopy.
To cut to the chase, Darbar blows. It neither is a holistic socio-commercial pot boiler like Murugadoss’s earlier films nor is it a quintessential Rajni outing like, say a Petta from recent memory. What it manages looking like in the end, resembles the distant vitamin deficient cousin of Thuppaki.