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Lal Salaam review: Rajinikanth plays finisher in Vishnu Vishal and Vikranth's run chase

The biggest strength of Lal Salaam lies in the characterisation of Moideen Bhai (Rajinikanth), not just his call to war, even his bid to bring peace is effervescent with heroism.

Lal Salaam review: Rajinikanth plays finisher in Vishnu Vishal and Vikranths run chase

Still from Lal Salaam Movie

Cast: Rajinikanth, Vishnu Vishal, Vikranth, Jeevitha, Ananthika Sanilkumar, Senthil and Kapil Dev

Director: Aishwarya Rajinikanth

Music director: AR Rahman

Rating - 3/5

Synopsis: A feud between individuals gets blown out of proportion to a communal strife by politicians with vested-interests.

Bring Rajinikanth on-screen for a second or more than that, he owns the film and makes even a mediocre film look watchable . His inarguable presence can blur the lines between a special appearance and the lead role. This has worked favourably for Aishwarya Rajinikanth's Lal Salaam starring Vishnu Vishal and Vikranth.

The biggest strength of Lal Salaam lies in the characterisation of Moideen Bhai (Rajinikanth), not just his call to war, even his bid to bring peace is effervescent with heroism. It's hard to tell if his character was too well-written making others' look mediocre or were they left dangling mid-air hoping Bhai will rescue them.

Lal Salaam opens in a fictional Murarabad village in Tamil Nadu where Muslims are in a majority. With the elections approaching soon, political leaders are hell-bent on festering communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in a largely peaceful neighbourhood, to spawn a non-existent votebank. The bad blood between two cricketers --Thiru (Vishnu Vishal) and Shamsuddin (Vikranth) -- conveniently plays into the hands of the divisive forces. Where does the unrest lead to and what impact it leaves on the villagers is what Lal Salaam is about.

Aishwaryaa Rajinikanth excels as a writer in depicting the communal clash as a personal feud when it boils down to individuals. Despite the village simmering with violence, the Hindu characters do not remove the Islamic amulets they wear around their neck. These small things draw a clear line between individuals and the scheming politicians.

Moideen Bhai sparkles throughout as a big cheese in Mumbai who worked his way up in the garments business. He monoacts, he blushes at the compliment that he has aged well, he fights, he imparts messages, he does it all with a finesse. With that being said, Vishnu Vishal and Vikranth too have managed to make a mark with their performances. A frustrated Shamsuddin's confrontation scene and scenes where Thiru broods over failing as a son to his single mother testifies that these actors can rise to prominence even when they share the screen with Rajinikanth. Thambi Ramaiah and Senthil have essayed their roles well. Given his excellence in comical roles, Senthil bowls over the audience in an emotional avatar.

The non-linear narrative gets a bit bumpy on the what-is-what grounds, as the screenplay progresses in the first half. The half ends on a high note creating an enigma around Moideen Bhai, leaving us with the frequent 'Neenga Nallavara Illa Kettavara' question. Things get a bit more serious in the second half as it deals with an important subtext how a caste Hindu community masterminds a flare up between the oppressed Hindu community and Muslims in the garb of 'Hindu-Muslim clash'. Aishwaryaa and writer Vishnu Rangasamy deserve a pat on their backs for going to the root rather than scratching the surface.

Dialogues were particularly effective-- Senthil explaining the positive impact of a Thiruvizha, Rajinikanth facing the camera saying "We are Indian Muslims whose forefathers chose to stay here, no one gets to say we should leave the country," and him chiding the commentator "A tongue should turn dignified when there are thousand ears listening" for dubbing the match played by Muslims and Hindus as India vs Pakistan, compensated for the absence of a punchline.

The things that work against the film is its length and its cameo-playing villains Poster Nandakumar and KS Ravikumar, who appear in intervals just not to be forgotten. Vivek Prasanna, however, somewhat makes up for the villain-voidness. Another flaw that sticks out like a sore thumb is the conspicuous absence of cricket after a point of time. Despite communal tensions taking precedence, Lal Salaam was promoted as a sports drama with an undercurrent of religious harmony so the cricket part of the story required a rounded finish.

AR Rahman's boisterous 'Jalali' with Rajini's powerful presence have brought the audience on its feet. Ther Thiruvizha not being Rahman's best in the recent times, becomes enjoyable mostly for the visuals. Vishnu Rangasamy being both the writer and the cinematographer was able to neatly translate his story through his lens. Lal Salaam could have been a bit crisper had editor Pravin Baaskar been judicious in accommodating long scenes with no cuts.

Lal Salaam has its own share of flaws but that doesn't take away the honest and a timely message it endeavours to impart. Despite Rajinikanth not letting the gallery down, has largely restricted himself to a tool that gravitates people towards the message of religious harmony. The required rate of this run chase would have creeped up had Vishnu and Vikranth lacked a finisher like Rajinikanth.

Akshay Kumar
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