Darbar essentially runs like a 150 minutes long mimicry show where the Rajinikanth of today relentlessly mimics his own younger self. What results is a movie that is extremely tedious and even pointless. Resurrecting a popular plot-line from the masala potboilers of 80s, director Murugadoss attempts to tell a story of a ruthless cop Aditya Arunachalam who avenges the murder of his daughter. In the 80s, Tamil cinema’s action films were primarily based on the ‘hero avenging his sister’s rape’ template. Murugadoss seems to have taken this done-to-death template and added a minuscule variation to it hoping that no one would notice.
One of the key reasons why Rajinikanth’s masala films worked in the 90s was in how effective their villain characters were. They made the conflict menacing and the narration gripping. But in Darbar, we are steadfastly introduced to a series of villains who seem more bored than the previous one. As the first villain, Prateik Babbar appears and disappears without a notice. The second villain played by Nawab Shah seems very confused and even scared. And the third and supposedly the most dangerous villain played by Suniel Shetty appears at the tail end of the movie. He appears so late in the narration that you wish you could ask him to ‘stand up on the bench’ for being such a latecomer. And even after that, he appears completely uninterested and gets bashed up voluntarily. Duh!
Darbar feels like it was originally shot in Hindi and later dubbed to Tamil. Because except for three or four primary characters, the rest of them are Hindi speaking ones. So their original Hindi dialogues are changed to Tamil for the benefit of the local audience. But this has obviously sent the lip-sync of all these characters for a complete toss. So it makes one wonder about a very fundamental question. Why is the movie based out of Mumbai? Is there even a remote logic or merit to it? Because the story no way warrants for the characters to exist in Mumbai. Neither does it take advantage of Mumbai’s landscape or its socio-politics. It is a complete mystery why Darbar is based out of Mumbai when all that it does is make it comes across as a poorly dubbed movie.
Am not sure if we should even write anything about Nayanthara’s role or performance in the movie. Because even a single statement about it might become disproportionately more than her screen-time in the movie. Nivetha Thomas appears as Rajinikanth’s daughter and ironically, her character comes alive only when she is about to die. Yogi Babu is used as a pickle to spice up the proceedings a little. And he does what pickles do. While Rajinikanth seems more energetic in Darbar than any of his other recent movies from the decade, his energy or enthusiasm seems completely wasted in this thoughtless movie. While an average viewer can work hard and tolerate the first half, the second half of the movie seemed beyond any human redemption.
The movie is even a let-down in technical departments in-spite of some very big names making their presence. Anirudh Ravichander’s songs and background score are shockingly vapid. They come across as either an uninspiring rehash of some of composer Deva’s work for Rajinikanth movies in the 90s or just the generic Anirudh music that he has come to be known for. Santosh Sivan’s cinematography appears like a careless and dull version of his own work for Murugadoss’ Thuppakki (2012).
After the disaster of Kochadaiiyaan (2014) and Linga (2014), Rajinikanth was forced to re-invent himself. But he came back impressively in both Kabali (2016) and Kaala (2018) as someone willing to play his age. Both these movies restrained the gimmickry associated with ‘brand Rajini’ to a great extent and instead, pushed him to perform as an actor. The superstar sans most of his superstardom was a delight to watch in both these movies. However, they weren’t universally accepted and some of his fans craved for a younger, uninhibited Rajinikanth. This demand was captured in Petta where a younger looking Rajinikanth returned to perform a re-hash of his own antics from yesteryears. And it worked well with the audience too. However, when he repeats the same thing again in Darbar, it seems to be falling flat.
While Petta and Darbar are a lot similar in their content and presentation, the reason why Ranjikanth’s trademark antics worked well in Petta but badly fail in Darbar is because Petta had the benefit of being released immediately after the restrained Kabali and Kaala. The detox of the superstardom in Pa Ranjith’s films allowed for Karthik Subbaraj to offer the high of a dessert’s sugar rush in Petta. However, Darbar turned out like the second dessert that is served too soon after the first one. So unfortunately, the viewer seems in no mood to embrace it with equal enthusiasm.
Darbar is extremely problematic in how it normalizes and even romanticizes encounter killings. Also, the sudden appearance of a few transwomen characters seems to follow the pattern of their insensitive portrayal in Tamil cinema. This happening at a time when there have been increased sensitization and discussion around these issues, it appears like Darbar wants to take us back to the dark-ages. But again, the movie itself is so bad that one wonders if it should even be taken seriously and critically engaged with.
The important takeaway from Darbar is that it is officially embarrassing that Rajinikanth continues to mimic his own younger self and pushes these ridiculous movies. He should go back to re-inventing himself and offer something newer to the audience. Even if he is not interested in making all that effort, he should at least put some effort in finding better scripts.
The reviews of terribly made star movies diplomatically claim that they are ‘strictly for that particular star’s fans’. But then, Darbar is a movie that one would not even want to recommend to his or her worst enemies. So pushing the fans to watch it might be extremely unfair. The only positive thing that can be said about Darbar is that it can be recommended by acupuncture practitioners as a sure cure for insomnia.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.