NB : Take a look at the video before reading this quick analysis.
Kabali is a modern reminiscence of Mullum Malarum Kaali, with graying hair, stylish suits and a malaysian background. Director Pa.Ranjith said himself that he shaped his hero’s character under the influence of Mahendran’s hero character : he wanted to recreate the beautiful rawness and depth that could blossom in Superstar’s performance, especially when he plays characters rooted in a proletarian milieu, whether in a small village in Tamil Nadu, or in a plantation in Malaysia.
In both scenes (video above), the characters have escaped death and are talking to their arch-nemesis : in the Mullum Malarum cult scene, Kaali has lost his arm after a night of drunkenness and just learns from his boss, Kumaran (Sarath Babu) that he is fired ; in the Kabali post-interval scene, the eponymous character has survived an assassination attempt and is talking on the phone to Tony Lee (Winston Chao) to keep him informed that he is alive. Thus, in both cases, scratches of life has made our heroes stronger.
As a kind of echo to these nietzschean words from The twilight of the idols, « That does not kill us, make us stronger », Kaali says « Sir, rendu kayum, rendu kaalum tholachaalum, Kaali endravan pozhachuppan sir avan. Ketta paiyan, sir » and Kabali, for his part, says 38 years later « Avlo sikkiram saaga maattan indha Kabali. Romba kettavan da ». In my opinion, if both Kaali and Kabali weren’t self-made fighters from a proletarian milieu, these character-defining dialogues would have lacked authenticity.
I have always thought that Mullum Malarum was the best film title in tamil cinema history because of its beautiful wordplay : it can be translated as « the Thorn and the Flower » referring to the harsh Kaali and his sweet sister, Valli ; it also can be translated as « the Thorn also can bloom », referring to Kaali’s evolution in the movie. However, maybe is there also a third meaning to Mullum Malarum : Kaali (and Kabali after him) blooms like a resilient flower despite the thorns on his way, the thorns that hurt his body and his soul. That’s what both characters are about : the fighting spirit. The tortured but somehow pure souls, Kaali and Kabali are my most favourite characters in Superstar’s filmography. Maybe because the fan girl in me knows (or wants to believe) that they are intimately linked with the real Sivaji Rao Gaekwad, aka Rajinikanth.
Kaali and Kabali are such an unexhaustible subject that this analysis has to be continued in future articles.