Kalki 2898 AD review: Flashy visuals try too hard to impress

Karishma Jangid
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Kalki 2898 AD

Despite a decent climax, Nag Ashwin's 'Kalki 2898 AD' falters with a shallow plot and splashy visuals, struggling to balance substance with style.

Excess is harmful; this is ancient wisdom. However, ‘Kalki 2898 AD’ seems to have ignored this. This is not a new phenomenon, but lately, Bollywood has been trying harder to substitute substance with style. The belief is that to attract audiences, you only need a spectacle. Kalki 2898 AD follows the same path. With its flashy visuals and excessive hero-worship, it becomes too much too soon, entertaining only in parts.

In the dystopian city of Kashi, the last city on Earth, the poor live in filth, while Supreme Yaskin (Kamal Haasan) and his minions thrive in the luxurious Complex. Bhairava (Prabhas), a desperate bounty hunter, dreams of living in the Complex but lacks the required units (currency). Meanwhile, SUM-80, or Sumathi (Deepika Padukone), lives in the Complex lab where women are impregnated to produce a serum for Supreme. When a pregnant Sumathi escapes, a bounty is placed on her head. Bhairava pursues her, but Ashwatthama (Amitabh Bachchan), a warrior from the Mahabharata who is still alive, constantly intervenes. He believes Sumathi's child is destined to be a God and vows to protect them. This sparks a war between Ashwatthama and the Complex.

Also Read: Maharaj review: Weak performances and overdone male saviour complex

The first half of the film is irksome. Prabhas’ acting is disappointing, with his jokes falling flat. If your hero needs loud sounds and extreme hero-worshipping to establish himself, then he is probably not as impressive. The dragged, exaggerated, and unnecessary action scenes breaking into slow motion every two seconds are exhausting to watch. Yes, your hero can beat 11 people at once - what next? The saving grace for Prabhas’ scenes is Bujji, Bhairava’s AI droid voiced by Keerthy Suresh, much like Avengers' Jarvis.

Bachchan’s entry is a relief because he carries his character well. Padukone gives her best, but her role is limited to being scared and at the mercy of others. She has less dialogue and more frowns. The cameos by Vijay Deverakonda, S. S. Rajamouli, and Dulquer Salman also feel forced and unentertaining. Anna Ben impresses as the rebel but adorable Kyra; I wish she had a larger role. The film’s star cast is stellar, but the story doesn’t know what to do with them. Most of them, like Disha Patani (Roxie), are included simply to increase the scale without adding anything meaningful. Kalki 2898 AD is crowded and chaotic, worsened by loud and unwarranted sound cues constantly dictating what to feel.

The second half gets interesting. After struggling to build the universe, the film finally begins to tell a story as the climax approaches. The fight scenes, though still stretched, start to serve a purpose. Mythology gains a meaningful place in the script. This doesn't mean the film fares well; it merely avoids being a disaster. It gives hope that the next part won't be as demanding.

I know what you're waiting to hear about- the visuals. Sure, the film is a technological upgrade in Indian cinema, but we still have a long way to go. The visuals and script resemble Western sci-fi movies like Dune, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Mad Max: Fury Road. The only distinctive visual elements are those derived from Indian mythology. The color palette is so loud, it hurts your eyes. Repeating the same bright colors in every scene makes for a frustrating watch. Additionally, while the VFX is impressive at times, it often looks gaudy. The attempt to digitally recreate a young Bachchan was just plain bad, and the animation often comes off as caricaturish. You know something is wrong with your film when it resembles the setting of Ganapath.

In most sci-fi movies, costumes serve a specific purpose. If one has to live in a dystopian city where the air is unbreathable and water is scarce, suitable clothing is essential for survival. Take, for example, the stillsuit in Dune- because there is very little water on Arrakis, the suit converts sweat into drinkable water to keep the wearer hydrated. In contrast, the costumes in Kalki 2898 AD are merely stylish rags that do not aid survival. This highlights a major flaw not only in Kalki 2898 AD but in Indian sci-fi in general: motives and explanations are often lacking. Numerous plot holes mar the viewing experience. Even if a film is based on mythology, having a character say, “Ye humare samajh ke bahar ka power hai” is insufficient. Using mythology doesn't exempt you from creating a logically coherent film.

My main complaint with Kalki 2898 AD, and other Indian sci-fi movies, is that sci-fi is often equated with visuals rather than an equal balance of science and fiction. You don’t have to give loaded mathematical equations but there has to be some logic and reasoning. This ignorance underestimates the audience’s intelligence, a common issue in mainstream Bollywood. Kalki 2898 AD tries too hard to impress rather than focusing inward, making it a tiresome watch despite a decent climax. I hope the next part redeems itself.

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Kalki 2898 AD