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It's about time Kannada cinema steps out of its ‘KGF’ hangover, and perhaps ‘Kabzaa’ is the exact antidote it needs.
Heard of the term ‘phrogging’? A quick Google search will reveal that it's the act of unethically living in another person's home without their permission. But should you wish for a visual demonstration, maybe try watching the behind-the-scenes footage of the KGF films to spot writer-director R Chandru secretly living on Prashanth Neel's sets. Chandru, to his credit, has been patient enough to wait for team KGF to vacate the premises before he can start shooting. And Prashanth Neel, being gracious enough, has left three of his best resources behind — KGF’s second cinematographer AJ Shetty, art director Shiva Kumar, and music composer Ravi Basrur for those minor tweaks.
Kabzaa, the eventual product that R Chandru managed to put together, isn't just a KGF clone. It is also a shallower and more chaotic version of the Yash starrer. In all politeness, Kabzaa feels less like a rehash and more of a 'how do we use this deleted footage' exercise. Even so, shockingly, someone's found a way to mess it all up.
Let's make it clear that there is no harm in wanting to replicate a film’s look. With visual effects being an incredibly valuable factor, of late, films of a particular scale do end up looking starkly similar, which is a pardonable offence now. Even Marvel films are often pulled up for this. So if R Chandru wanted to make a KGF-like film, it's his prerogative. However, what he was supposed to do was rewrite the story or at least mask the similarities in a sleight-of-hand manner. But maybe even that is too much to ask for, because it almost feels like one of Prashanth Neel's earliest drafts was reused for the sake of time, effort, and frugality.
If Rocky Bhai was born on the streets inhaling coal dust, Upendra's Arkeshwar is surrounded by sludge and poverty. If Rocky had to be orphaned as a kid to become the Toofan that he was destined to be, Arkeshwar first loses his father and then his older brother to begin his Kabzaa. And if Yash falls in love with a rich princess-like diva (Srinidhi Shetty), Upendra falls for an actual princess in the form of Shriya Saran. In addition, there is a smattering of small changes that mean nothing to the story, and to be honest, you are likely to stop caring about anything after a point.
What we do get, as promised, is the slew of bad guys like in the KGF series — but unlike in those films, none of them really get any solid screen time to create an impact. My own count adds up to eight villains who last for less than two minutes each. But in all fairness, each of them dies a unique death for our pleasures.
Appallingly, for a gangster drama, Kabzaa also has no considerable conflict to offer. As a result, it simply feels like a 2-hour-16-minute long assault on our senses — so much so that the KGF films might seem like masterpieces at the end of it all.
Once you figure that story is not an important element in the film anyway, your focus might shift towards appealing visual aesthetics. Lathed with grease and black muck, DOP AJ Shetty and production designer Shivakumar's combined ‘vision’ of the world of Kabzaa has a few striking elements, but this aspect, too, is let down by some terrible visual effects. Entry-level 2D renditions of buildings are enhanced to minimum effect, and when they are blown up on the big screen, you can't help but wonder about the standards at which the film has been executed. Ravi Basrur, who has already faced enough criticism as a 'one trick pony', tries his best but has nothing new to offer. In all fairness, it is crystal clear that each of these technicians was hired to repeat the 'KGF flavour' and they have done just that.
Kabzaa is said to have been picked by Amazon Prime Video for digital streaming later on. Well-known entities such as Anand Pandit Motion Pictures and Lyca Productions have distributed the film in other languages. Were they looking elsewhere when the film was screened for them? Or were they scammed into this deal with the help of a completely different and better-looking film?
As far as performances are concerned, Upendra largely manages to fit into the lead role, but is caught being too stiff in the emotional sequences. There is a lot of posturing in the latter half of the film, and that's where he shines the brightest. The dubbing, however, is excruciatingly below par, which is one of the main reasons Shriya Saran looks quite out of place in the film: there is also the fact that she has no ‘role’, so to speak. Kiccha Sudeep is seen for a maximum of five minutes and is heard for the rest of the film as its narrator. He is of least significance in the film, unless he were to find a meatier role in the Kabzaa 2 (yes, another one is supposedly on the way).
Speaking of part two, Shiva Rajkumar, who makes a timely appearance in the film to save us, is likely to be one of the main leads in the upcoming instalment.
For someone who spent Rs 400 on the ticket, Kabzaa failed to offer the absolute minimum to me — a film. At its best, it is a copy, and at its worst, a horribly made parody. It's a pity that an industry as many as nine decades old is still delivering at such low standards. It's about time that Kannada cinema steps out of its KGF hangover. Perhaps, Kabzaa is the exact antidote it needs.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.
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