Rickshaw driver Manikam is content with a quiet life supporting his neighborhood and community. Easy going and carefree, he oozes charm and is naturally popular among the locals. Soon after his younger brother becomes an officer of the law, his brother gets in a bit too deep with a local crime boss. To add to the mix, the same gangster is also the father of a young woman who Manikam has developed a friendship with. When the conflict is too much and the people Mankam cares for are in irreproachable danger, Manikam must unlock the key to his past — unlock his power of the gangster overlord he turned back on long ago —unlock BAASHA.
Thus begins the wonderful 3-hour Tamil crime musical epic of Baasha, with bonafide superstar (Rajinikanth) behind the titular role of an ex-gangster turned good— fighting, singing, and dancing his way to justice. This being my first “true” Indian cinema screening outside of last year’s decidedly non-musical and “very serious” Psycho Raman, Baasha, was a great introduction. Hitting points found in 80s blockbuster cinema, its cues (there’s even a crib of the famous Terminator 2 theme), it has all the familiarity to gently guide nubile viewers along as these familiar cinematic trails are drenched in Tamil goodness.
Three hours is a lot but bear in mind a good chunk of that is filled up with songs, hilarious musical cues and all. Inherently over the top, the song and dance numbers while entertaining also double down on character motivations, from the first flutters of a romance, all the way to the final showdown.
Carrying the film is of course Superstar Rajinikanth, with a larger than life presence that seems to only grow as the film progresses. The film was introduced stating that its main star, Rajinikanth, is "basically a God in India". To put some perspective, the guy has his own logo show before the studios. Every action is one that is monumental. A hair flick, a head turn, a signature power-stance, this is the type of film that gives the same weight of importance to answering a phone call to that of say, a street crucifixion.
Naturally, the film’s contagious energy spilled from the screen and into the audience. Chants and cheers filled the room when the titular theme played. By the end of the film, I had felt like I had just been to a concert instead of a movie. A great experience and film, Baasha, is a wonderful introduction into the world of Indian cinema. It’s a shame the home video distribution system in India is nowhere near the capacity it is in the States, so the chance of seeing this outside of Youtube is low. Regardless, this film was such an entertaining surprise that I’ll be keeping my eye out for any Indian repertory screening in the future.