Kalki 2898 AD Review: Prabhas' Film Has Firepower That An Aspiring Futuristic Franchise Needs

Kalki 2898 AD Review: Deepika Padukone, playing one of the central figures, is splendid as the pregnant woman on the run

Kalki 2898 AD Review: Prabhas' Film Has Firepower That An Aspiring Futuristic Franchise Needs

A poster of the film. (courtesy: Kalki2898AD)

Its vaulting ambition, visual extravagance and bewildering millennium-spanning time-frame never desert Kalki 2898 AD. That contributes to as well as occasionally helps the Ashwin Nag-directed film leap over its narrative speed-breakers and hurdles. There are many, especially in the first half, which is an incoherent mess riddled with many an unanswered question.

Kalki 2898 AD, which opens during the Kurukshetra war and culminates with an encounter between Lord Krishna and Ashwatthama (Amitabh Bachchan), leaps across 6,000 years plays out 874 years in the future. Kaliyug is upon mankind, evil has overrun the world, the Ganga has run dry, infertility has gripped humanity and people wait hopelessly for divine deliverance.

Iska koi scientific reason toh hoga (there must be a scientific reason for this), says a character when he is shown an object that baffles him. That is a question that could well be asked about the film as a whole. This is beyond science, he is told. That, in a way, sums up Kalki 2898 AD is an awkward melange of rationality, mythology and high-octane action inspired in part by Hollywood superhero movies.

The expository parts of Kalki 2898 AD are hurried, convoluted and hard to grasp. The film could have done with some intervention to increase directness and clarity. But, as it plunges into the second half and hurtles towards its climax, it falls back on the sheer sweep of mounting and execution to make up for what lacks in terms of the writing.  

The action sequences, filmed by Belgrade-based cinematographer Djordje Stojiljkovic, are staged with striking felicity and the special effects, if not exactly consistent, are of a high enough order not to undermine the overall impact of the film.

The most notable and captivating aspect of Kalki 2898 AD is the production design by Nitin Zihani Choudhary, who pulls out the stops. The film carves out incredibly startling spaces, settings and backdrops that appreciably enhance the film's depth and dimensions.    

The story is set in Kasi, the world's last surviving city that stands in the middle of a desert. It is lorded over by a wrinkled, shrivelled tyrant who has scientists working on his behalf to produce a serum that can rejuvenate him for sepulchral clashes that lie ahead - and beyond the scope of this film.

Among the key plot points of Kalki 2898 AD are a massive metal bow that no ordinary human can touch (let alone lift), a man condemned to immortality (Amitabh Bachchan) and a mother (Deepika Padukone) with an unborn baby in her womb that is the principal point of contention between Kasi and Sambhala, where rebellion brews against Sugriv Yaskin (Kamal Haasan) and his depredations.        

The rebels of Sambhala - the mythological site where Lord Vishnu's final avatar, Kalki, is prophesied to take birth and liberate humanity from its miseries - resolve to take the expectant mother - an embodiment of a miracle - to safety. Their mission is anything but easy.

The three-hour dystopian sci-fi good-versus-evil epic sets the stage for what is meant to be a proposed cinematic universe that weds chapters from the Mahabharat with elements borrowed from Mad Max, the Marvel universe and the early 1990s P.D. James novel The Children of Men (which was adapted for the screen by Alfonso Cuaron in 2006).

The freewheeling fantasy revolves around Bhairava, a bounty hunter and fighter who has never tasted defeat. He works with a robotic droid to capture fugitives and dissidents and deliver them to 'The Complex', the nerve-centre of the evil empire run by the reclusive Yaskin.

The city, protected by an army led by Commander Manas (Saswata Chatterjee), has a laboratory where selected young women are used as guinea pigs for a fertility experiment. It is from here that SUM-80 (Deepika Padukone) - one of the Sambhala rebels, Kyra (Anna Ben), decides to call her Sumathi - flees. She finds help from unexpected quarters.

The Hindi version of the film is peppered with a lot of English that sounds more present-day than futuristic. The casual verbal exchanges between Bhairava and his chirpy droid are more banter than conversation. They are intended to provide comic relief. Consistency isn't the strong suit of these passages.

One major action block - it is part of the hero's entry scene - goes on for too long and begins to test the audience's patience. But when the film flags, the editing (by Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao) seeks to inject some pace into the proceedings by cutting to a completely different location and context. It works only sporadically.

On the acting front, Prabhas leads the way and not only because the film revolves around him. His strong presence serves as a counterpoint to Amitabh Bachchan's towering Ashwatthama - the deathless warrior is an eight-footer. The latter's voice is, as always, an integral part of the character.

Deepika Padukone, playing one of the central figures, is splendid as the pregnant woman on the run. Saswata Chatterjee, as the bad guy who shoots lethal laser rays from his fist, has his moments in a film that often lets spectacle overwhelm everything else that it is trying to convey about mankind and the dangers it faces due to its own profligate ways.

Kalki 2898 AD has the firepower that an aspiring futuristic franchise needs and it harnesses it pretty well. So, for all its flaws, it does not ever careen out of control. 


Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Prabhas, Kamal Haasan


Nag Ashwin