Kalki 2898 AD is an ingenious concept but lacks soul

Amitabh Bachchan in Kalki 2898 AD. Photo: Tree-Shul Media

There are some unwritten axioms in cinema, especially Hindi cinema. Kalki 2898 AD is a film that I will analyze strictly as a Hindi film, though it is being released in many languages and its director, Nag Ashwin, is from Telugu cinema.

The first axiom, time-honored, is that action dramas sans emotions, soul and heart will never connect with the people. Today, in the era of brazenly escalated box-office figures, such an expensive project might later be claimed as a blockbuster, but I guess visuals inside theatres will tell a different story, as will genuine booking sites.

The second point that VFX and CGI and all things technical can never be substitutes for substance in the content. Grandiloquent visuals, ‘amazing’ (a describe-all word in contemporary lingo!) camerawork and never-seen-before imagination will never work unless there is a solid core.

Which brings me to the third point, another cinematic axiom told to me by peak-time Subhash Ghai: “Ideas don’t make films. Scripts do!”

For this is a terrific idea executed without soul! Though modeled on Hollywood mega-movies and the films of S.S. Rajamouli (who makes a cameo here alongside Ram Gopal Varma, Mrunal Thakur, Vijay Deverakonda, Dulquer Salmaan and maybe some others from the South whom I did not recognize), it completely lacks the main ingredient of Rajamouli’s dramas—the solid emotions.

And that’s what creates anguish within me—twice over!

The first one is that I was hoping for another blockbuster film that will remove Hindi cinema from the commercial (especially) and artistic morass it has gone into of late. The second is that so many great talents, Indian and foreign, have worked their guts off giving stunning visual shape to Nag Ashwin’s mammoth dream.

Djordje Stojiljkovic’s cinematography, Nitin Zihani Choudhary’s production design, stunning action by King Solomon, Andy Long, Peter Heins, Satish, Anbariv and Nick Powell, the CGI, VFX, DI and finally 3D reach global levels of excellence thanks to the imagination of the director. But at the end of the day, what remains is only that fevered technical innovation and terrific passion as a shell with little inside.

The story is an ingenious blend of mythology with the future. Kashi (the city of Benares) is believed to be the oldest city on earth, and now, 874 years down, is the last remaining town, that too devoid of basic facilities and with citizens in a state of misery and poverty. Alongside is a place called the ‘Complex’, where the so-called “elite” reside, ruled by Supreme Yaskin (Kamal Haasan) and with a commander called Manas (Saswata Chatterjee). There is also a rebel habitat called Shambhala. Their currency is called “units”.

Now for the actual tale: We start with Lord Krishna cursing Ashwatthama (Kushal, and later Amitabh Bachchan) with eternal life and invincibility and predicting the beginning of Kalyug. It is also revealed that he will take his tenth and final avatar (Dashavatar) and end that age where malevolence and evil is at its height and the world is now almost destroyed.

And so we have the interactions between rebel bounty hunter Bhairava (Prabhas), Manas and SUM80 (which is a number given to the nameless Deepika Padukone!) from the Complex, who is pregnant, and Yaskin and company want to destroy her child. In Shambhala, Mariam (Shobhana) has sensed that Lord Krishna will soon return and finds that it is SUM80 who will be his mother. The Why’s and How’s of all these, of course, are never even explained!

Bhairava wants to capture her and deliver her into the clutches of the Complex’s forces, and thus make the grade as a well-to-do citizen there—because SUM80 has escaped from there to Shambhala with the help of Lily (Kavya Ramachandran) and her fellow rebels. But Ashwatthama lands there and decides to protect her, as he is immune to injury and death from evil forces. What happens next?

Of course, this saga will only be completed with a sequel. And again, for the industry’s sake, I hope that not only is it made but is in a completely different league and making for a worthwhile viewing experience!

Deepika Padukone in Kalki 2898 AD. Photo: Tree0Shul Media

Over to the acting: Amitabh Bachchan gets a true-blue action role and excels in that at his age, making it one of his more remarkable turns in his second innings that started 24 years ago. Prabhas overacts, attempts comedy, romance (with Disha Patani in a senseless ‘glorified extra’ kind of role), and action but generally fails to impress. Deepika Padukone is mechanically forlorn, confused and lost as per her character, that’s all. Kamal Haasan has just two or three scenes and while his makeup is awesome, he barely gets scope, which he is set to get in the sequel.

From the supporting cast, Saswata Chatterjee as Manas and Anil John as Bani are ‘so-so’, but I liked Shobhana as Mariam and Anna Ben as Kyra.

I am also intrigued about how there are Hindu and Christian characters in the film, but none belonging to any other community. Have all other religions become extinct? Just a thought that the makers can clarify if they wish!

The songs are atrocious to the extreme and the background score ear-splitting (both by Santhosh Narayanan), the dialogues either poor or completely cliché-ridden and the comedy forced, loud and cringe-worthy.

The net result is a tedious 180-plus minute narration that has sound, fury and spectacle but little to take home.

Vyjayanthi Movies’ Kalki 2898 AD  Produced by: C. Aswini Dutt  Directed by: Nag Ashwin  Written by: Nag Ashwin , Sai Madhav Burra, Rutham Samar & B. S. Sarwagna Kumar  Music: Santhosh Narayanan  Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas, Deepika Padukone, Disha Patani, Shobhana, Disha Patani, Brahmanandam, Rajendra Prasad, Anil George, Saswata Chatterjee, Pasupathy, Anna Ben, Kavya Ramachandran, Kushal, Sp. App.: Vijay Deverakonda, Dulquer Salmaan, Mrunal Thakur, S.S. Rajamouli, Ram Gopal Varma, Keerthy Suresh (voiceover) & others




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