Annaatthe review: Is this the Rajinikanth film we deserve?

How to review Superstar Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe without writing it off mercilessly? There isn’t really much to talk about except for lamenting how director Siva has taken old wine from an old bottle and poured it again in another old bottle. Unlike Pa Ranjith’s Kabali or Kala, this film doesn’t have subtext with deeper meanings to unpack as subtlety or talking about real-world problems is not Siva’s strong suit. Like Karthik Subbaraj’s Petta, Annaatthe is neither a clever and fun action film aided by nostalgia.

Annaatthe begins with Annaatthe storming the news channels and social media debates of Kolkata. Annaatthe aka Kalaiayyan (Rajinikanth) is giving sleepless nights to one of the biggest gangsters in all of Kolkata. As gang battles fought with guns and machetes become a common sight in the streets of Kolkata, we can’t find the presence of cops anywhere. The entire Kolkata police force and the government have seemingly gone on a long holiday, letting Kalaiayyan, a man from a humble village in Tamil Nadu, rid the city of bad apples.

It is one of the many logical holes in the story. Not to mention, Siva’s superficial understanding of how love works. He can sit in a room and come up with some morally ludicrous justifications to explain why the characters in his film acted in the way they did. But, not many would buy it.

In Siva’s universe, emotions and relationships work in ways that are far removed from our world. The exemplary siblings suddenly betray each other. And the siblings, who have been arch-enemies their whole life, become fond of each other at a moment’s notice. Take, for instance, Prakash Raj’s character. He plays the rich and the meanest man in the village. But, after crossing paths with Kalaiayyan, he transforms into a noble and wise man. Jagapathi Babu is pure evil. And one evening, thanks to Kalaiayyan, he begins to experience emotions that he never did.

Even Siddhartha Gautama needed 49 days of deep meditation to attain enlightenment and transform into Buddha. But, Siva’s characters are capable enough to untangle decades worth of their emotional baggage in the course of a few minutes. And that’s what makes the characters in this film unrelatable even though all of them seem very familiar.

The film exposes a troubling practice in the Tamil film industry. It seems some filmmakers believe that as long as they have Rajinikanth in the lead, they can slack off in the director’s chair. Just write a few punchlines, and string together a few scenes in between fight sequences and songs, creating an illusion of a coherent flow of the story. It is Rajinikanth who has to do all the heavy lifting. He has to compensate for the shortcomings of his directors with every ounce of his energy and strength.

Annaatthe is so one dimensional. Kalaiayyan is so wise that he needs no further understanding of the world. He has an opinion about everything under the sun. And he’s never wrong. To make Kalaiayyan the wisest man in the room comes with a cost. And the cost is it creates an unfavourable environment for multiple interesting and noteworthy supporting characters to emerge. None of the characters, except for Kalaiayyan, are smart in the movie. Even Keerthy Suresh’s Meenakshi or Nayanthara’s lawyer character.

Just a few minutes of interaction with Kalaiayyan and Nayanthara’s character, who is a lawyer, gets a crash course on justice. And that’s enough for her to argue a case against her own client. Meenakshi is so lost that she can’t even spot her own brother, who has been tailing her at a 10 feet distance.

See, the audience loves Rajinikanth. And they can enjoy and cheer when he lits a match-stick by just looking at it fiercely. Or when he plays catch with grenades. But, the movie has to offer something to tickle their fancy besides simply exploiting the audience’s love for Rajinikanth. Annaatthe was never expected to respect logic. But, it is also a huge disappointment when to comes to handling emotions, including humour.

That makes us question when there is nothing new to offer, why make Annaatthe at all?

If you ask Siva, he might say it is a dream of every filmmaker to direct Rajinikanth in a film, and he’s no exception. But, what is the excuse that Rajinikanth could possibly give for working with a director who doesn’t bring anything new to the table, or promise to further enhance the popularity and the market that he commands?

Annaatthe features one of the biggest stars of India, and all it has to offer is a bunch of questionable wisdom on affection and relationships. There is something really wrong with what we consider big movies.

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