Kalki 2898 AD: A gutsy attempt at mixing dystopian world with Mahabharata

Nag Ashwin proves his capability as a versatile director, the movie works best when it focuses on Prabhas and Amitabh Bachchan

  • Starcast: Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Deepika Padukone, Saswata Chatterjee, Pashupathy, Anna Ben and others
  • Special appearances: Mrunal Thakur, Dulquer Salman, S.S Rajamouli, Vijay Devarakonda, Ramgopal Varma etc.
  • Story, direction, screenplay and dialogues: Nag Ashwin
  • Additional screenplay: Rutham Samar
  • Additional dialogues: Sai Madhav Burra and B.S Saewagna Kumar
  • Producer: C. Ashwini Dutt
  • Production Company: Vijayanthi movies
  • Cinematography: Djordge Stojilijkovic
  • Music: Santhosh Narayan
  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Running time: 3 hours and 1 minute

The track record of Indian cinema with science fiction/futuristic worlds is pretty abysmal. A major reason for it is the necessity of masala elements where the hero has to do romance, comedy and action while saving the world. Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish movies though not seamless did a good job in mixing Hollywood tropes with Indian Masala. Ayan Mukherjee’s Bramhastra was high on visuals, but a weakly written love story coupled with erratic characterizations made the movie just about an average watch. Last year Vikas Bahl made an attempt at directing a movie set in a futuristic world where the society is divided into two and poverty is at an extremely high level. Ganapath ended up being more about Tiger Shroff’s somersaults and was roundly rejected by the audiences.

Now you have Nag Ashwin’s Kalki 2898 AD also set in a futuristic world. The two-film old director has already created a niche for himself with Yevade Subramanyam and the biopic Mahanati on the legendary actress Savitri. Mahanati in particular is a challenging movie given that it is based on a very beloved actress who is admired by many, but he did complete justice to her life. With Kalki 2898 AD the director has pushed himself even more and let his imagination fly high. For example, he makes you believe that there would be a future where women would have zero autonomy over their bodies and the need for capitalistic gains will wipe out cities. In spite of obvious similarities to Dune and the Mad Max films Nag Ashwin delivers an impressive concoction of sci fi elements with mythology. But the women characters are a major weak spot, and the random love story of Prabhas with Disha Patani is a major speed breaker.

Kalki 2898 AD moves along multiple timelines starting from the Kurukshetra war. Amitabh Bachchan is Ashwatthama who is cursed with immortality by lord Krishna. On the other hand, there is the dystopian landscape of Kashi, the world’s last city. However, it is in complete shambles. The mighty Ganges is in a parched state and food is naturally scarce. There is a towering structure called Complex governed by Yaskin played by Kamal Haasan. He rules the place with an iron fist. Inside the Complex there are many fertile women who have been put on an experiment. Deepika Padukone’s SUM-80 alias Sumathi is an employee who is supposed to make sure that these fertile women get sufficient food and medicine. But there is a twist here; Sumathi who has been considered infertile for ages is now five months pregnant. Then you have Shambala a place for refugees from different faiths and cultures. They are putting their lives at stake for a better future.

Bhairava (Prabhas) wants to escape from the dreariness of Kashi and get into the Complex. He has AL car Bujji (with a fun voiceover by Keerty Suresh). There is a constant banter between them which gradually develops into a strong bond. Bhairava is a selfish man who is unaware of his destiny. As the story progresses Bhairava’s life gets intermingled with Ashwatthama, Sumathi and the people of Shambala.

For a movie like this a seamless blend of special effects and cinematography is very necessary and Kalki 2898 AD scores full marks in this department. The high-octane action sequences between Amitabh Bachchan and Prabhas in particular is a major highlight. Thankfully Nag Ashwin doesn’t show Bhairava as invincible, on more than one occasion we see him getting hurt. These scenes are also sprinkled with humour that bring a smile. Nitin Zihani Choudary’s production design also deserves a particular mention in how he creates an imaginary landscape that immerses the audiences.

Director Nag Ashwin also deserves distinction marks for how he integrates the Kurukshetra episode in the film. The emotional turmoil of Ashwatthama and his quest for repentance strikes a chord. Amitabh Bachchan delivers a stellar act overshadowing Prabhas on occasions.

Prabhas as Bhairava has a role that comes with different shades. There is humor, and he also comes across as not so likeable. Prabhas does complete justice to both. His interactions with Keerty Suresh’s Bujji add a lot to the movie.

Kamal Haasan as the evil Yaskin has a brief role but he sends down a chill with his intimidating act.

Santhosh Narayanan’s music lacks good songs but he more than compensates it with a powerful background score.

Kalki 2898 AD has many cameos from actors and directors. Out of these Ramgopal Varma and S.S Rajamouli are fun to watch. There is a Baahubali reference where Prabhas jokingly says about how he gave 5 years to that project, it definitely raises a chuckle. Among others Mrunal Thakur is impressive in her brief role.

A big flaw of Kalki 2898 AD are the two female leads. Disha Patani is only used for glamour and one completely out of place song. Deepika Padukone on the other hand plays a pregnant woman mirroring her real life. She is mostly required to look petrified, and the expressions irritate after a point.

The movie’s runtime could have been crisper with lesser cameos. For example, Dulquer Salman and Avasarala Srinivas don’t add anything significant with their presence.

A caution: Too many good directors going into the dystopian landscape is something that the industry should be careful about.

Prabhas: The rise and decline of the ‘Baahubali’ star

Here’s an overview of how Rebel Star Prabhas has gone from a strong force to a pale shadow of himself, post-‘Baahubali’.

Prabhas made his debut with Jayanth C Paranjee’s Eeswar in 2002. He has been part of over 20 films to date. His most famous projects include Varsham (2004), Chatrapathi (2005), Darling (2010), Mr Perfect (2011), Mirchi (2013), and of course the Baahubali (2015 & 2017) films.

Of the 20-plus films, only eight are hits at the box office. The rest of them have either done average business like his first film Eeswar or have been complete disasters like Munna, Yogi, and Rebel.

So, it is not that Prabhas hasn’t seen flops before, but his once magnetic screen presence has seen a total dip after the world-famous Baahubali. Also, the actor has become too macho leaving little or no space for other emotions like vulnerability.

Machoism and sentiment

His debut film Eeswar was a typical “rich girl loves poor boy” story filled with all the clichés that we associate with the genre. Despite this, he made an impressive debut, for there was certain ease in his acting.

There was a time when Prabhas made efforts to cater equally to both masses and classes. For example, SS Rajamouli’s action-drama Chatrapathi was meant to make him the darling of the masses.

The director presented him as macho, but there were also some solid emotional moments beneath all that action. Prabhas more than stood his own, even opposite a senior actress like Bhanupriya. His scenes with over-the-top Shafi also showed a different side of the actor.

Romance and action

In Varsham and Mirchi, the Rebel Star struck a perfect balance between a romantic and an action hero. His romantic scenes with both Trisha and Anushka Shetty respectively had many adorable moments.

In between, he also tried his hand with a classy period film like Pournami (2006).  Of course, it also had its share of action scenes. But there is also a hugely vulnerable side of Prabhas, especially in his scenes with Trisha.

Pournami wasn’t a blockbuster when it was released but it continues to be a film that is remembered fondly by the class audiences.

The likes of Mr Perfect and Darling, on the other hand, established Prabhas as an out-and-out lover boy. Contrary to the title Mr Perfect, his character Vicky isn’t flawless. There are times when he comes across as too selfish. But Prabhas managed well to balance the different shades of his character.

The Baahubali films directed by Rajamouli, of course, took the stardom of Prabhas to a different level. Baahubali 1&2 allowed him to portray different shades — a fierce warrior, a righteous prince who stands up for his beliefs, a loving husband, etc.

But, since then, things are on downhill with Saaho (2019), Radhe Shyam (2022) and the latest Adipurush (2023). There could be multiple reasons for these disasters, but the chief reason is they did not match up to the expectations after Baahubali.

In the case of Saaho, director Sujeeth made a mess of what was essentially a revenge drama with an underworld background. The plot was convoluted unnecessarily with too many characters.

Sujeeth tried to show some 50 shades of Prabhas. But in the process, the style took over substance. Chunky Pandey as Devraj was the only actor in the supporting cast who made any impression.

As for the Baahubali-star, he comes across as rather bored for most of the movie. There is a lazy attitude that we see in the actor and this makes Sahoo even worse. The close-up shots did not exactly help either.

Radhe Shyam: Another debacle

Radhe Shyam directed by Radha Krishna Kumar was an interesting attempt given that it is a love story where there are no human villains. You don’t have any action scenes where Prabhas takes on the baddies. Here, it is fate that plays spoilsport.

And the conflicts arise from his destiny, not his fellow human beings. Though Radhe Shyam was a complete departure from Saaho in many ways, the box office result was the same.

To the credit of Prabhas, he did put in a sincere performance. But the romantic side wasn’t as convincing as in Mr Perfect. He did try to rise above the muddled script.

The biggest reason behind Radhe Shyam’s failure was the lack of clarity on the part of director Radha Krishna Kumar. It was not clear at any point whether he was supporting science or astrology. It also didn’t help that Prabhas and Pooja Hedge’s chemistry was far from convincing.

Adipurush: More of a video game

Now to the latest Adipurush. Om Raut’s take on the Ramayana is something that writer Valmiki would cringe at. With the weird tonality that the director adopted Adipurush became more of a video game than the story of Lord Rama.

Apart from the lapses in the story, the performance of Prabhas was also rather laboured. There was no attempt on his part to get into the headspace of Rama. The actor treated it as any other mainstream character.

The magnetic presence associated with the actor is also completely missing in this film. His broad frame did not help in any way. Forget about NT Rama Rao, even others who acted as Rama fared much better.

And now, for the Baahubali actor to return to form, he needs to do two things seriously — choosing his scripts wisely and getting rid of his laziness in acting.

Let’s hope that his forthcoming Salaar and Project K would bring out the better version of the actor!


Adipurush: Prabhas’s Latest Outing Is A Misfire Of Epic Proportions

In spite of all the resources available, Om Raut has delivered an absolutely subpar film that makes a mockery of the ‘Ramayana’.

Prabahs-starrer Adipurush was one of the most keenly anticipated movies of this year. It was expected to be a mega-comeback for the actor.

However, since the release of its teaser, it has been hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons more often than for the right ones.

Only the songs have managed to create some buzz. Unfortunately for Prabhas, Adipurush is going to be another severe setback after Saaho (2019) and Radhe Shyam (2022).

A subpar film

In spite of all the resources available, director Om Raut has delivered an absolutely subpar film that makes a mockery of the Ramayana.

Om Raut made a smashing Bollywood debut with his first film Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (2020). Ajay Devgn played the title role in it.

Saif Ali Khan was the chief antagonist, playing Aurangzeb’s trusted guard Udaybhan Singh Rathore.

In spite of its hyper-nationalism, Tanhaji still worked primarily because of the performances, and also the scale on which Om Raut mounted the film.

I won’t go into the story of Adipurush as Ramayana is an epic that needs no introduction. So, let’s delve straight into the analysis.

Before getting into the negatives, it is necessary to mention the few positives that Adipurush has.

To give credit where it is due, the music and the background score do manage to pump in the much-required emotions.

The movie begins with the wonderful song “Ram Siya Ram“. Manoj Muntashir’s lyrics coupled with his singing make the track an absolute winner.

Jai Shri Ram” has a robust energy which makes the audience sit up.

The background score done by Ajay-Atul and Sachet-Parampara is rousing.

A particular mention must be made of the background score whenever Saif Ali Khan’s Raavan comes on screen.

Saif as Raavan

Saif Ali Khan clearly has a ball playing Raavan and it shows in every scene. Thanks to his strong screen presence, the actor brings a certain energy that uplifts the film considerably.

Yes, the part does remind you of Ranveer Singh’s Allauddin Khilji in Padmaavat (2018) and also Saif’s own Udaybhan Singh Rathore. But still, there is no denying the impact of Saif.

Saif has always been at his best when not playing the typical hero and this thunderous performance is proof of that.

Vatsal Seth as Indrajeet deserves a mention. He makes a striking impact in spite of his limited screen time.

Too many flaws

Coming to the shortcomings, Prabhas and Kriti Sanon are easily the weakest links of Adipurush.

The success of the Baahubali films (2015 & 2017) has changed the fortunes of Prabhas, both positively and negatively.

On one hand, it has opened new doors for the actor. But the expectations have also risen many folds.

An important part of his success has always been his magnetic screen presence but that charisma was nowhere visible in both Saaho and Radhe Shyam, particularly the former.

Here, too, Prabhas comes across as rather dull. At no point does he succeed in making the audiences feel that he is Rama, the Ideal Man/God that crores of people in this country worship.

It is very clear that the actor has treated this role as any other mainstream character. At no point does he get into the headspace of Rama.

Kriti Sanon as Sita

Kriti Sanon, on the other hand, does suffer from a sketchy characterisation. She is largely absent in the second half. Even when she is there, she comes across as bland.

Much like Prabhas, Kriti has also failed to internalise her character.

The chemistry required between Prabhas and Kriti Sanon is completely absent.

Weak characterisation

The characterisations of the “Vanar Sena” also leave a lot to be desired. The accent of Devdatta Nage’s Hanuman, in particular, is rather jarring.

Om Raut has tried to give Hanuman a modern touch, but the dialogues are completely out of sync with what viewers generally expect from Hanuman.

Poor VFX

The VFX is another big disaster. Adipurush is a film that is supposed to have been made on a budget of ₹600 crore. But as viewers, you wonder where the budget went.

In spite of the flaws in the story, Brahmastra (2022) was at least a visual spectacle. But the graphics in Adipurush seems to have been designed by amateurs.

The battle scenes, in particular, are both laughable and exhausting. They test the viewers’ patience to the optimum. One wishes to see the end as quickly as possible.

Final take

A runtime of almost three hours makes things worse for Adipurush. Instead of being an epic tale, it turns out to be an epic bore.

(Views expressed are personal.)