Kalki 2898 AD: Prabhas and Nag Ashwin’s Epic Yet Flawed Sci-Fi Saga

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Bengaluru: Kalki 2898 AD, directed by Nag Ashwin, is an ambitious and grand attempt to blend science fiction with Indian mythology. This Telugu-language epic stars an ensemble cast including Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas, Deepika Padukone, and Disha Patani. As the first installment in the planned Kalki Cinematic Universe, the film sets its sights high, aiming to redefine the superhero genre within Indian cinema. However, while it has moments of brilliance, it falters in its screenplay and character development, leaving the audience with mixed feelings.

The Curse of Ashwatthamma
The movie opens with a powerful backstory rooted in Hindu mythology. After the Kurukshetra War in 3102 BC, Ashwatthamma, in a fit of rage and desperation, attempts to kill Uttarā’s unborn child using the Brahmashirastra. His actions lead to a curse from Krishna, condemning him to immortality and stripping him of his divine gem. This curse also dictates that Ashwatthamma’s redemption lies in aiding Vishnu’s final avatar, Kalki, during the Kali Yuga. This prologue sets a mythological foundation that permeates the narrative, intertwining ancient legend with a futuristic setting.

Plot Overview
Fast forward to 2898 AD, and we are plunged into a post-apocalyptic world where the last known city, Kasi, stands desolate and controlled by the tyrannical Supreme Yaskin. From his hovering megastructure, the “Complex,” Yaskin drains the Earth’s resources to sustain a paradise reserved for the elite. Amidst this dystopia, fertile women are forcibly taken for experiments aimed at extending Yaskin’s life through a serum derived from unborn foetuses.

The story follows Raaya, a young refugee girl disguised as a boy, who narrowly escapes capture with the help of rebels from Shambhala, a hidden city. Her journey leads her to Ashwatthamma, who, upon reuniting with his gem, becomes an ally in the search for Kalki’s mother. SUM-80, a lab subject, manages to hide her pregnancy until she is discovered. Her escape, aided by the rebels, propels the narrative into a series of high-stakes confrontations, chases, and battles across the wastelands and futuristic settings.

Performance Highlights
Despite being marketed as a Prabhas’s vehicle, it is Amitabh Bachchan who truly shines in the film. His portrayal of Ashwatthamma is both compelling and nuanced, bringing a depth to the character that overshadows Prabhas’ performance. Bachchan’s screen presence and delivery are impeccable, reminding audiences why he remains a stalwart of Indian cinema.

Prabhas, on the other hand, although given a significant role, struggles to leave a lasting impact. His performance, while competent, lacks the gravitas expected from a protagonist in such a monumental film. His character’s comedic moments, however, do offer some respite and showcase a side of Prabhas that was missing in his recent outings, notably after the lacklustre Salaar.

Kamal Haasan, cast as the antagonist Supreme Yaskin, delivers a performance that is both menacing and captivating. His portrayal of the tyrannical ruler, who exudes a calm yet threatening demeanour, adds a significant depth to the film’s narrative. Haasan’s ability to embody the multifaceted villain, balancing charisma with cruelty, showcases his versatility and command over the craft. Though his screen time in this installment is limited, he leaves a lasting impression, setting the stage for a more prominent role in the sequel. Part 2 promises to delve deeper into his character, bringing him into direct confrontation with the protagonists, a development eagerly anticipated by audiences.

Deepika Padukone, unfortunately, falls short once again. Her portrayal is uninspired and lacks the emotional range needed for such a pivotal role. It appears she needs the guiding hand of a director like Sanjay Leela Bhansali only to elicit a more dynamic performance. Her expressions are often wooden, failing to convey the depth of her character’s turmoil and strength.

Visual and Technical Mastery
One of the film’s undeniable strengths lies in its visual effects. The collaboration between Prime Focus DNEG, The Embassy Visual Effects, and other VFX studios has resulted in a visually stunning spectacle. The creation of the desert wastelands, the intricate design of futuristic vehicles, and the distinct environments of Kasi, Shambhala, and the Complex are all rendered with remarkable detail and creativity. These elements elevate the film, providing a rich and immersive experience.

The action sequences, particularly the high-speed chases and battles, are meticulously crafted, showcasing a blend of practical effects and CGI that feels both grand and grounded. The climactic confrontations, especially those involving Ashwatthamma and Bhairava, are thrilling and visually arresting.

Musical Score
Santhosh Narayanan’s music complements the film’s epic scale. The “Bhairava Anthem” and the “Theme of Kalki” stand out as powerful compositions that enhance the narrative’s emotional and dramatic beats. The score, while not ground-breaking, serves its purpose well, providing a sonic backdrop that supports the film’s ambitious scope.

Cameos and Voice Performances
Kalki 2898 AD also features numerous cameos from prominent actors and directors like SS Rajamouli, Ram Gopal Varma, Vijay Deverakonda, Mrunal Thakur, Faria Abdullah, Dulquer Salman, and Malavika Nair. These appearances add a layer of excitement and novelty, though they occasionally feel like distractions from the main plot.

The voice performances by Keerthy Suresh for Bujji and Arjun Das for Lord Krishna (played by Krishnakumar) are noteworthy. Their vocal delivery adds a distinct personality to these characters, enhancing their presence within the story.

Final Thoughts
Kalki 2898 AD is a film of contrasts. It boasts a visionary concept, stellar visual effects, and standout performances from Amitabh Bachchan and a few supporting actors. However, it is hampered by a weak screenplay. Nag Ashwin’s attempt to create an Indian superhero epic is commendable, yet it falls short of its full potential.

The film’s ambition to merge Indian mythology with a sci-fi narrative is praiseworthy, and it successfully opens new avenues for Indian cinema. However, it also feels derivative, drawing heavily from established franchises like Avengers and other superhero sagas, which diminishes its originality.

In conclusion, while Kalki 2898 AD is a visual and conceptual treat, it is let down by its execution and uneven performances. It is a step forward for Indian cinema in terms of scale and ambition, but it leaves much to be desired in storytelling and character depth. Fans of the genre will find much to appreciate, but those expecting a masterpiece on par with Ashwin’s previous work, Mahanati, may be left wanting.

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