White Guy Watches Bollywood

A random white guy engages with contemporary Indian cinema... one movie at a time

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Telugu Movie Review: Kalki 2898 AD impresses visually, but struggles to develop storytelling momentum

Prabhas stars in "Kalki 2898 AD," here reviewed by White Guy Watches Bollywood.

Hollywood industry observers have widely noted the significant absence of a traditional sci-fi/fantasy spectacle to kick off this year’s strike-depleted summer movie season; Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga are the closest you’ll get, and a far cry from Marvel-style escapism. It seems only fitting that the increasingly competitive-minded Indian film industry would have an answer for this drought in Kalki 2898 AD. The film, one of the biggest in Tollywood history, is not only a lore-packed fantasy of epic proportions, but one on track to set numerous box office records both in India and abroad this coming weekend. Now, don’t expect non-Indian audiences in the West to flock to this in droves – its mythology is perhaps a bit too culturally-specific for real crossover potential – but the diaspora alone may propel Kalki 2898 AD into the Top 5 at this weekend’s North American box office.

The above may read like an excessive amount of money talk and industry analysis for a piece intending to be a movie review, but I think it’s important to establish upfront the kind of tentpole that Kalki 2898 AD is aspiring to be. During the first 45 minutes of the film especially, it’s very clear that writer/director Nag Ashwin is aiming for a Marvel-type universe, no matter how steeped in Indian texts like the Mahabharata the story is. The style and construction of the movie feel very Hollywood, which makes its commercial ambitions inextricable from its artistic aims. I will be curious if one of the main criticisms among Indian viewers is that it all feels a bit too Hollywood, even if they’re enthralled by the extreme lengths the film goes for fan service (including more star cameos in a single film than I’ve seen since the third Austin Powers). All of this is to say, the way Ashwin goes about world-building suggests he’d like the picture to be viewed on the same plane as any of the biggest international blockbusters out there.

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