“It will be an old-school Rajinikanth film,” said AR Murugadoss, in a recent interview to Film Companion. A self-confessed fan of the superstar, Murugadoss had wanted to first collaborate with his idol back in 2006 when he was riding the Ghajini wave. However, despite the occasional conversations between the two, it took more than a decade for the project to materialize.
Aadithya Arunasalam (Rajinikanth), a Commissioner of Police in Mumbai is a ruthless no-nonsense guy, who is mentally unstable and all the time plotting revenge on an unknown enemy. As a result, we get to see Aadithya randomly finishing off gangsters at will, leaving the criminal world in shock. We are then treated to a flashback in Delhi where Aadithya is living merrily with his daughter Valli (Nivetha Thomas) and their sidekick Kaushik (Yogi Babu). He gets an emergency transfer to Mumbai to handle a sensitive case.
When he isn’t chasing goons, Aadithya spends his time with his dutiful daughter and the duo share an endearing bond. Valli is adamant that she won’t marry until Aadithya remarries and this is when Lily (Nayanthara) enters the scene by coincidence and a romance blooms, even as Aadithya gets entangled in a peculiar case. Little does he know that this investigation will eventually shake up his life—a typical revenge drama ensues as Aadithya unleashes his anger on the opponent.
Rajinikanth is in his elements as the charismatic cop and plays to the gallery in full throttle. There are plenty of those typical hand gestures, wearing of stylish sunglasses and slow-mo walks along with festive songs. The Superstar’s charm is infectious but it’s hard to overlook the inevitable ageing that is visible in certain sscenes. For a man who will turn 70 this year, this is quite natural but a chink nevertheless. Rajni still puts in a committed effort, especially in the high-octane scenes.
It’s quite pleasing to see the Thalaivar plays an aged role and even allows jokes on his age. Nivetha Thomas is impressive as the bubbly ‘buddy’ daughter and her rapport with Rajni is pleasant. Nayanthara doesn’t really have much to do and, this is now the second biggie on the trot (after Bigil) where the actress has been underused.
There are quite a few antagonists in the film of various degrees but it’s Suniel Shetty who is the chief one. His character sketch manages to paint an evil picture but he could have been used in a better way particularly in the pre-climax sequences. We are used to seeing the classic cat-and-mouse battles in AR Murugadoss films but that is missing here.
Even at a time when Kollywood commercial flicks had a high dosage of gravity-defying stunts and unbearably larger-than-life hero characters, AR Murugadoss had managed to stand out. He was able to add the sensibility quotient into the genre without compromising on the final output. Ramana, Ghajini, Thuppaki and Kaththi were all commercial gems where the screenplay had a refreshing sense of balance. Sadly, that magic has been missing for a while now and barring the odd splash, it’s more of the same in Darbar.
Anirudh’s music and background score are fabulous and this coupled with Rajni’s swagger manages to salvage several half-hearted sequences in the film. The one thing Murugadoss gets right in his screenplay is the pacing which is a plus for the film for there’s never a dull moment.
On the whole, Darbar entirely feeds off the Rajini nostalgia with negligible Murugadoss stamp on it. There are quite a few vintage Rajinikanth moments, including a fight sequence at the railway station that should be a treat for the mass audience, especially the superstar’s true-blue fans.