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Lal Salaam - cloying and annoying

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Beginning her directing career in 2012 with psychological thriller/romantic drama ‘3,’ starring Dhanush and Shruthi Haasan, Aishwarya Rajinikanth shifted gears to crime thriller ‘Vai Raja Vai’ starring Gautham Karthik. Both debut and sophomore feature films were riddled with flaws: they were tonally inconsistent, unfocused in their plot and emotion, and ill-conceived. Nine years since her last film, Aishwarya Rajinikanth returns with ‘Lal Salaam,’ a film that unsuccessfully melds numerous genres. It stars Vishnu Vishal, Vikranth and the director’s father Rajinikanth in an extended cameo. 

The film begins in medias res, where Vishnu Vishal’s Thirunavukarasu, a local cricket player and good-for-nothing who has been the instigator of a riot in Murrabad, a village where Muslims and Hindus have hitherto lived harmoniously. The film focuses on Thiru, his lifelong rivalry with aspiring international player Samsuddin (played by Vikranth) and Samsuddin’s father, textile businessman Moideen Bhai (Rajinikanth). In the midst of this sports drama, there is also the issue of the annual chariot festival, where troubles arise due to aspiring politician Raji (played by Vivek Prasanna). 

In the hands of a more competent director, these narrative threads may have been weaved together well, however Aishwarya Rajinikanth has not been able to do so. Furthermore, each of these narrative threads are individually uninteresting. Secondly, Aishwarya Rajinikanth dials the sentimentality up to maximum throughout the film. All the familiar familial Tamil masala ingredients are present here: father sentiment, mother sentiment, son sentiment, sister sentiment. Each of these 'sentiments' are briefly touched upon, but none are truly explored. Aishwarya Rajinikanth attempts to cover her failings as a director with these emotions, that many other Tamil directors also use as a crutch. 

The film is also visually inconsistent. The cinematography is all over the place (perhaps mirroring the film’s content) and the editing is unnecessarily hyperactive. A sports drama released less than a month ago with an eerily similar plot (with much less melodrama) was ‘Blue Star,’ from a debuting director. In comparison to ‘Lal Salaam,’ ‘Blue Star’ is an overall better made film. Where the film falters most is through its inclusion of Rajinikanth. The actor is usually effortlessly charismatic. However, terribly written scenes and a paper-thin character leaves the actor with cringe-inducing scenes and performances. 

The score and soundtrack by AR Rahman does little to improve this film. The only track worth mentioning is ‘Ae Pulla,’ sung by Sid Sriram. However, the singer is changed for the theatrical release, and the accompanying visuals are irksome and lazy. ‘Ther Thiruvizha’ seems to be in the vein of other AR Rahman favourites such as ‘Kummi Adi’ and ‘Mersal Arasan,’ but lacks the same level of flair. The rest of the soundtrack is unfortunately lacklustre and tired in execution.

Overall, despite slightly improving her craft, Aishwarya Rajinikanth seems to be on a downward spiral over the course of her filmography. Hopefully there is some drastic change in any future projects she decides to undertake. It is not enough for ones intentions to be noble to create a good film. For those who enjoyed ‘Lal Salaam,’ I would recommend ‘Blue Star’ and ‘Karnan.’

Krishna's rating: 1.5 stars


Official trailer for film below. 

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