Indian Sci-Fi Epic Is Too Much of a Good THing 5

Subtlety is on short display in the new Telugu-language sci-fi fantasy epic that borrows from so many similarly-themed predecessors that the film could be shown at copyright lawyer conferences. Boasting eye-popping CGI visuals, spectacular action set pieces and the sort of hugely entertaining, over-the-top performance by Indian superstar Prabhas that shows why movie stars were invented, Kalki 2898 AD is heavier on style than substance and far longer than necessary. But it certainly provides audiences bang for their buck, and its box-office success proves that the creators weren’t being overly optimistic by proclaiming “The Kalki Cinematic Universe Continues” during the end credits.  

Providing a plot synopsis is bit of a challenge, so bear with me. Director-screenwriter Nag Ashwin’s three-hour film — fortunately, there’s an intermission — begins with a prologue, set in 3102 BC following the Kurukshetra War, that will be best appreciated by those familiar with the Hindu epic The Mahabharata. The warrior Ashwatthama (Amitabh Bachchan) is cursed by Krishna, a reincarnation of the god Vishnu, after he makes the mistake of attempting to kill an unborn holy child. As punishment, he’s sentenced to wander the earth for eternity, finding redemption only by protecting the mother of Vishnu’s future incarnation, Kalki.

Kalki 2898 AD

The Bottom Line

Overstuffed, but so spectacular viewers may not mind.

Release date: June 27
Cast: Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Kamal Haasan, Disha Patani
Director-screenwriter: Nag Ashwin

3 hours 1 minute

Cut to 6,000 years later (check the film’s title for the exact date), when the planet has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society (just once, I’d like to see a sci-fi movie where things have actually gotten better in the future) in which the elites naturally hog precious resources, including water, which can be purchased with “credits.” Those upper-crust types live in a giant inverted pyramid called the “Complex,” which thankfully doesn’t have the name “Trump” emblazoned on it, while the plebeians live in a slum below. Overseeing the Complex is Supreme Yaskin (Kamal Haasan), who seems in desperate need of moisturizer. He runs the nefarious Project K, which drains pregnant women of their fluids, which he uses as a youth serum. Afterwards, they’re incinerated.

One of those ill-fated women, SUM-80 (Deepika Padukone), manages to escape, winding up with a bounty on her head. Enter the rascally bounty hunter (is there any other kind?) Bhairava (Prabhas), who desperately wants to earn enough credits to ascend to the Complex. That’s when Ashwatthama (remember him?) reenters the scene to protect the runaway SUM-80, the prophesied mother of Kalki. The 6,000 years have apparently been good for Ashwatthama, as he’s now a strapping eight-feet tall. The same can’t quite be said of Bhairava, at least energy-wise, since as soon as he makes his appearance, he insists on taking a nap.

There’s a lot more going on in terms of a plethora of other characters and subplots, but you’re probably already as exhausted reading this as I am writing it. Suffice it to say that you could easily amuse yourself during the film simply by spotting its inspirations, with Star Wars first and foremost among them —Bhairava has a helpful companion in the form of a robot that acts like a miniature version of R2-D2; Supreme Yaskin’s minions bear no small resemblance to Stormtroopers, etc. — although, if memory serves, Stars Wars didn’t throw in the occasional musical number like this film does.   

But Stars Wars is just the beginning. You can also spot references to numerous Marvel films, Mad Max: Fury Road, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Dune, The Matrix, Blade Runner and the Harry Potter series, among others. And the character of Roxie (Disha Patani), Bhairava’s love interest who displays admirable fighting prowess while rocking a midriff-baring outfit, could give Princess Leia a run for her money, especially when it comes to snappy remarks. “I thought you wanted me,” she tells Bhairava while subduing him in a headlock. “But you only wanted my credits.”

Ultimately, for all its wildly entertaining elements, Kalki 2898 AD feels like too much of a good thing, resembling the sort of lavish buffet meal that leaves you feeling overstuffed and exhausted. But fans of this particular style of cinema are not likely to mind.

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