An unlikely Social Justice Narrative : ‘Kabali’ Tales

Kabali is a film that tries to engage the minority Tamil diaspora issues in Malaysia, especially the former plantation worker community who are disenfranchised from the mainstream racial politics in Malaysia as they are the subaltern without education and jobs, driving them to the underbelly of crime in Malaysia. Rajnikanth acting as the gangster messiah of the Malaysian Tamil Hindu community, plays on stereotypes and the lowest common denominator emotion of the macha (colloquial Tamil for the friendly neighborhood boy ) in Port Klang. The Tamil Movie Industry with this gamble of picking up a diaspora topic for a megastar film starring Rajni Sarr, has moved on from Jaffna Tamil Politics of Mani Ratnam Cinema to a safer Malaysia which is a lucrative market for the industry.

I applaud the social justice driven dalit subaltern political impulse of Director Pa Ranjith which has got a huge megaphone for an outlet; the reason why Ambedkar wore suits vis-a-vis a Gandhi as a statement of resistance against subaltern nature of existence is the same reason why the character Kabali wears it as well. The structural inequalities of the Malaysian Indian Community are depicted, in that sense this film brings the issues to the Indian living room such as teen age pregnancies and crime. On the cinematic method side, Kabali is an excruciating slow film, with a smattering of Bahasa Melayu and Mandarin making it ‘Truly Malaysia’ story. A through and through film for the die-hard Rajni fan, it stood out for its flawed depiction of its minority politics than anything else. This film attempts to bridge labor activism with racial politics under a post-colonial cloud.

It is now time to watch Jagat, a smaller budget Malaysian Tamil Film (a rare effort by Director Sanjhey Kumar Perumal, who took a decade to make a film) on a similar theme, far less popular, due to the indie character of the film. Kabali has indeed brought the Malaysian Indian community more traction than any other creative initiative earlier. A very clever film which has balanced politics in a commercial warp, with the masala entertainer of a Rajni Film. A job very well implemented Mr. Ranjith.


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