The Tamil movie Lal Salaam is directed by Aishwarya Rajinikanth and stars Rajinikanth, Vishnu Vishal, Vikranth, Senthil, Jeevitha, Thambi Ramaiah, Ananthika Sanilkumar, Vivek Prasanna, Thangadurai, Dhanya Balakrishnan
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Lal Salaam review
These are interesting times in Tamil cinema. Just a week back, we got the film Blue Star, which grappled with the caste dynamics in a rural place in the backdrop of a cricket team and its players. And this week, we have Lal Salaam, who wrestles with communal differences in a village using a cricket team again. In both films, two male protagonists have a fallout playing at the same time.
Of course, beyond this veneer, Blue Star and Lal Salaam are vastly different movies. The latter, featuring the superstar Rajinikanth in an extended cameo, is bound to be massier and have more playing-to-the-gallery scenes.
Rajni as Moideen Bhai, who operates in Mumbai, also harks — at a surface level — to one of his blockbuster hits, Baasha (1995). It is Rajni’s enterprising act that salvages Lal Salaam, directed by his daughter Aishwarya. Sans him, the film would have been just another run-of-the-mill Hindu-Muslim clash movie. Even if his presence is mostly confined to the second half (he makes his arrival towards the end of the first half), Rajni extricates the movie from the clutches of its humdrum.
The man has acting chops that are underrated, and when that is combined with his unmatched screen presence, it really elevates the proceedings. Take, for instance, the scene with his son Shamsuddin (Vikranth).w It is essentially a byplay where he fools around as if he is a bowler. The entire theatre, no doubt, erupted into raptures in that scene.
But the scenes without him let down the film. Aishwarya doesn’t handle this part with any assurance. As with her first film 3, here, too, she has cooked it unevenly. The story is typical. Shamsuddin (Vikranth) and Thiru (Vishnu Vishal) are budding cricketers. Despite being located in a hinterland village of Tamil Nadu, the two harbour ambitions for playing for the country.
While being anointed rivals in the village, they both turn to the same team, Three Star, owned by Moideen Bhai (Rajinikanth). The dad has huge dreams for his son to turn up in the national colours.
But there is a constant needle between Thiru and Shamsuddin, and one thing leads to another, and they have a major fallout. Thiru quits Three Star and starts another team. The fact that they are from different communities adds to their enmity. Their rivalry has a massive spillout, and there is a Hindu-Muslim showdown in the village.
And Moideen Bhai, who now lives in Mumbai, enters the scene. He is a respected man and sticks to his beliefs. These are the portions Rajni seems to have left out his personal philosophy on screen. At one point, Moideen Bhai says that Indian Muslims are born here. “I was born here, and I will die here. This is my home. We should not talk about caste or religion, but humanity, and humanity is above all. Jai Hind.”
Beyond his bravura show, the film slips into ordinariness. The climax is underwhelming as the writing is just convenient. Both Vikranth and Vishnu Vishal are sincere. But they are let down by a script that doesn’t give them much scope. There are a bunch of characters (some of them are there just for pure nostalgia) who have nothing much to do.
AR Rahman’s songs and background score are not bad. But they don’t add much to the scheme of things. The film could have done well with some pruning. And the editing is abrupt in certain portions.
Rajni’s cricket team is three-star, and he will get a five-star for his work. The rest barely get two.
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.