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Revisiting Baba - 20th anniversary re-release

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Baba is indeed a strange film. Penned by and starring Rajinikanth, it was his first film following a three year hiatus from the industry - having cemented his stardom in a decade of almost back to back hits. Four of Rajinikanth’s most iconic films were released in the 1990’s; Muthu and Padaiyappa with KS Ravikumar and Annamalai and Baasha with Suresh Krissna. Baba was Rajinikanth’s fourth collaboration with Suresh Krissna, and the film’s concept was provided by the actor himself - a passion project. I watched the film upon its initial release, and at a young age was aware of the disjointed nature of it. The film was critically panned and a financial failure, but has since developed a cult fan following. Twenty years later, and with several alterations to tighten the film, it has only become more perplexing. 

Baba is a tale about one man’s spiritual awakening, foretold by sages at his birth. It follows an atheistic man who indulges in most vices, such as drinking, smoking, and gambling. He is followed everywhere by his motley crew, and respected in the neighbourhood. His mother, aware that he will one day ascend the Himalayas to live an ascetic life, hopes to keep him with her as long as she can. He runs into issues with the local authorities due to corruption and injustice, making an enemy of the Deputy Chief Minister ‘Ippo’ Ramasamy. Baba also has a love interest in the form of Manisha Koirala’s Chamundeshwari, a girl from Delhi he often clashes with, who moves into the house opposite to his. All these worldly matters and attachments are put to the test when Baba is granted seven wishes, as a test of his character and beliefs. 

Firstly, the positives. The core story is a unique one in the Tamil industry. There are many memorable sequences and characters because of this, which have definitely aided in the film reaching its cult status. Sujatha’s performance as Baba’s mother is great - she is an incredible actress who is always capable of transferring her emotions to the viewer. Goundamani, who plays Baba’s closest friend Annamalai, chimes in with great jokes -  his antics during the cinema scene are hilarious. The ‘Rajinisms’ have been dialled up to ten: the final moment of one action block has Rajini kick his shoe off his foot, which lands on the antagonist’s face, before returning back to his foot. Rajini also includes multiple catchphrases and mannerisms: the hand gesture accompanied with ‘Gatham Gatham’ and the Baba countdown to name a few. Suresh Krissna has proved himself to be a brilliant director. His films ‘Sathya’, ‘Annamalai’ and ‘Baasha’ were massive triumphs due to his expert screenplay structures and innovative direction. His previous Tamil film feature before ‘Baba’ was my favourite of his, the dark psychological thriller ‘Aalavandhan.’ There are flashes of his brilliance in the staging of some scenes, the spinning camera from above when something miraculous occurs, and Chamundeshwari’s sari entry, all of which have an ethereal quality. 

However, the film is imperfect throughout. There are many subplots that are not weaved together well. Scene transitions are haphazard and feel unnatural. This may be chalked up to Rajinikanth’s inexperience as a writer -  all the elements for a great masala film exist, but they do not come together as cohesively as they could. The VFX, especially in the volleyball action block, have aged poorly. 

The re-release is not a successful one. Despite its flaws, Baba is a film loved by many. The film has been altered a lot, including cutting down the initial seven wishes to five. An entire subplot and a few characters are removed from the film, and the ending (which initially promised a sequel) has been changed drastically. Lines have been dubbed over sloppily to make way for these changes, and the cuts from the runtime only add to the joltiness of the screenplay. 

AR Rahman’s soundtrack to the film was also received poorly upon its initial release, but time has been much more favourable to it. The hero introduction song ‘Dippu Dippu’ is a weak entry in comparison to AR Rahman and Deva’s work in the prior decade. ‘Kichu Kichutha’ has many memorable lines, and a quirky, brass heavy tune. ‘Shakthi Kodu’ is a powerful spiritual song, alternating wonderfully between the emboldening nature of spirituality and the submissiveness one must face before God. Finally, my personal favourite of the soundtrack is ‘Maya Maya’ a song which encapsulates the overall message of the film and spreads a much needed philosophy to a world entrenched in the material world. Sadly, these songs too have not been spared in the re-edit. 

Overall, Baba is a strange yet singular film, which reveals a lot about its writer. I would recommend any of the Suresh Krissna or Rajinikanth films mentioned previously over it, however it is an unmissable film for a Rajini fan. Unfortunately, the re-release has toned down the aspects which make the film unique.

Available to watch in cinemas.

Krishna's rating: 2.5 stars


Official trailer for the film below. 

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