Film, India, Review, Telugu

Kalki 2898 AD

Kalki 2898 AD, written and directed by Nag Ashwin, is a grandiose and hypnotic marriage of image and sound. Coupled with the admirable vision of its director, the film is a spellbinding visual and aural experience on the big screen. If only its writing was as strong as its technicalities, Kalki 2898 AD could well have been the real McCoy!

Kalki 2898 AD is set in a post-apocalyptic world and inspired from the Hindu mythological tale of the prophesied coming of the Kalki avatar (the final incarnate of Lord Vishnu). The film follows the lives of bounty hunter, Bhairava (Prabhas), pregnant lab subject Sumathi (Deepika Padukone) – the mother-to-be of Kalki, and the immortal Ashwatthama (Amitabh Bachchan) as they try to safeguard Sumathi and her unborn child from the tyrannical and totalitarian ruler, Supreme Yaskin (Kamal Haasan), when it is found that this child is destined to be the undoer of all evil forces.

From the get go, it is Ashwin’s world building that is nothing short of spectacular. Indian sci-fi flicks often test the degree to which the viewer’s disbelief can be suspended as they more often than not create superficial set pieces that feel anything but thorough. Ashwin, however, visualizes both the broad and minute details of a faraway dystopian future comprehensively and with such great conviction that each characteristic of his world feels tenable. He intelligently balances the proportion of mythological lore to the narrative he has written, accomplishing his intention to create a film that is an interesting intermix of characters from the Amar Chitra Katha comics and the Star Wars franchise. Be that as it may, the jewel in Kalki 2898 AD’s crown are the sequences from the Mahabharata that are shot oh-so-splendidly and have a goosebump inducing aura to them. The direction is self-assured to the extent of not spoon feeding any information while making sure essential plot revelations are made in a sharp and relatively subtle fashion. The narrative, although falling prey to regulation commercial cinema tropes such as killing-off-the-nice/venerable-guy and the melodramatic maternal angle, remains linear for most of its three hour running time other than a few flashbacks of the Kurukshetra War.

That said, there are moments when nuance unfortunately gives way to surplus and repetitive action sequences, which are incorporated more to cater to the leading men’s star persona and narrative loopholes that include a short-lived, vague romantic thread that honestly feels like an unnecessary filler. The makers have also tried their hand at inventing a catchphrase for the film, “Repati Kosamu” (roughly translating to For a Better Tomorrow) and a climactic showdown battle, both of which are far too reminiscent of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. The biggest shortcoming of Kalki 2898 AD however is its writing – in particular the character arcs, some of which had great potential to be deeply fleshed out and thereby give the film an additional layer of gravitas.

Despite the fact that he is amusingly more of an antihero to the narrative at large, the makers give Bhairava a care-a-damn, wisecracking, Peter Parker-esque personality that comes across as frankly peevish, while his camaraderie with his own JARVIS-like system (the AI voice from Iron Man) called BUJJI feels considerably forced and even cringeworthy. Bhairava’s split second transition from selfish-bounty hunter to an ally of the rebels and his reincarnation of Karna also feels faux, simply added as a crowd-pleasing gimmick. Ashwin could have created a well-rounded, complex antihero in Bhairava but somehow relies only on Bhairava’s physicality and cool looking gizmos to astonish people with scenes showcasing his bravado.

Then there is Sumathi’s character (initially known as SUM-80) that is alarmingly unidimensional. Her qualities of purity, caregiving and patience sadly never emerge and though her confused and overwhelmed look throughout the film is justified for all the unsolicited duties assigned upon her, her character is never given the opportunity to truly flourish. While Ashwatthama’s character is the most fleshed out, this is only because of how richly complex and deeply layered each character of the Mahabharata is. Supreme Yaskin is a typical comic book villain, who is evil personified and menacing but poses a fascinating question to explain the motive behind his horrific deeds: stating that the only way to preserve nature and its beauty is to give humans little to no access to it for they always find a way to destroy, over-exploit and deplete anything of substantial value.

Even though the characterisation is not as dense as one would’ve hoped, the performances surprisingly remain understated and gripping. For the lengthy runtime of the film, the editing pace is impressively engaging and the rhythm is quite brisk with the exception of a few scenes before the interval where the overall pacing momentarily loses steam. The misses in narrative quality is attempted to be offset by numerous star-studded cameos and mesmerising, elaborate cinematography with tasteful colour schemes, thereby massively elevating the entertainment factor. Even so, the rigorous VFX and precise production design easily steal the show, proving to be highly refined and elegant. Mention must be made to the ingenious animation intro, that succinctly gives context to the viewer regarding the world they are entering. The polished sound design creates an aural journey that is second to none while gratefully the background score is effective with the songs by-and-large being non-obtrusive.

After numerous not-so-successful attempts by Indian filmmakers to crack the myth/sci-fi genre, Kalki 2898 AD sets the benchmark high (for its own sequel too) and firmly stands its ground, even in comparison to some of the biggest cinematic epics from around the world. And there is only Nag Ashwin to thank for that. Yet, one cannot help but reiterate – if only the script was as effective, the film would have been at another level altogether.


Telugu, Science Fiction, Mythological, Color

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