Did we really need a third Kabaddi movie?For Ram Babu Gurung, third time is still not a charm.
Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi invites you back into the forlorn and familiar world of Kaji (Dayahang Rai) for the third time.
The first time we met Kaji was in 2014 and back then, this character felt fresh. There was something unusual about him. He was the hero of the film but he wasn’t invincible, as he failed to win his heroine Maiya’s (Reshma Gurung) heart, even after rescuing her from the bad guys. He felt like someone you knew in real life.
In the second installment, Kaji realises that it’s him who’s the bad guy in Maiya’s love story, and unlike most heroes he walks away from her life. The charm was in the character—Kaji wasn’t regular hero material and he was aware of it, he accepted it.
So, is the third time the charm? Not really. This film opens with a much older Kaji (the character was 32 in 2014), but not a lot has changed. He still stares at Maiya’s photo, which he carries in his wallet even though she eloped with her lover, the last time we saw her. Mukhiya (Pushkar Gurung) and Mukhini (Kabita Ale) return as Kaji’s parents. They haven’t changed either, in that they support their lazy son financially and are worried because Kaji is getting older. This might be his last chance to settle down. His friend BK (Bijaya Baral) is back too, playing his usual role, which is nudging Kaji into doing stupid things.
There are a few new characters, with the most important being Kashi (Upasana Singh Thakuri, who would’ve been 15 in the first Kabaddi). She is a woman of many moods—mean, unforgiving, and constantly irritated with her boyfriend Myaki (Karma), but also pleasant and playful. She is also quite flirty with Kaji. They share numerous quirky one liners, a song, and a ‘thank you’ hug. Everything leads Kaji to believe that she’s the one.
But Kashi has problems at home. Her parents are on the brink of divorce and want her married off. Her mother Guni Maya (Loonibha Tuladhar) thinks Dhan Kaji (Wilson Bikram Rai) is the man for her daughter, because he has money. But her father Lal Bahadur (Maotse Gurung) wants her to marry Kaji because he doesn’t like Dhan Kaji.
Kaji ends up realising that he’s in love with Kashi, and so, throws Maiya’s photograph into the river. He befriends Lal Bahadur to fight Dhan Kaji and confesses his love to Kashi but she rejects him. Kaji, however, has learnt from his previous mistakes and instead of obsessing over his unrequited love, he helps Kashi and her lover out.
A strong plot has never been the forte of this series. It’s always Kaji realising he’s in love with someone and eventually finding out that she loves someone else. He tries a few ways to gain her love but never succeeds. His attempts are mostly told with humour, which is the primary reason the Kabaddi series has worked. In all three installments, the major armament in the arsenal has been the dialogue, which the actors were given space to improvise with. So whatever the mood of the scene, you’ll sense a diligent attempt to evoke laughter from the audience.
And the formula works. The Nepali audience laughs throughout this film—at insults hurled, quirky jabs, over-the-top acting, exaggerated fight scenes, and when Chhantyal (Buddhi Tamang) says ‘hait’.
But there is one moment of visual comedy that stands out. A frustrated Myaki goes to Kashi’s home and begs her parents to either accept him as their son in law or kill him. Nobody seems to care but the punchline arrives when we see that his t-shirt reads, “Thaakisakey mah” (I’m exhausted) in a close shot with the actor’s face, who does look extremely exhausted. The audience burst out in laughter. A job well done by editors Surendra Poudel and Nimesh Shrestha.
Sadly, there’s not much of that kind of visual comedy in the film. All attention is given to dialogue and so much so that sometimes it’s obvious an entire scene has been designed around a single punchline. Writers Upendra Subba and Rambabu Gurung (also the director) are doing this for the third time and they are so comfortable with this world that it’s plausible they wrote this installment in their sleep. But there’s a thin line between being comfortable and being lazy.
Kabaddi 3 is redundant. There’s nothing we haven’t seen before. For example, in all three films, within 10 minutes, there is an inevitable drinking scene. Men seem unable to strike up a serious conversation in a Rambabu film without alcohol. And always, without fail, there will be women yelling at these men for drinking.
And that’s not all. Some scenes blatantly repeat themselves. Every time Kashi and Myaki meet, this is what unfolds: they meet in a secluded space where Kashi concludes that she’ll leave Myaki, he tries convincing her, she shoos him away, he then threatens suicide. She calls his bluff, calls him ‘nautanki’ (dramatic) and walks away. The only creativity in these scenes are in Myaki’s plans for killing himself—first he threatens to stab himself with a knife, the next time he wants to jump off a cliff, and so on.
Like many Nepali films released this past year, this one also doesn’t treat its women with respect. The second film was the worst in this aspect, where Chhantyal’s wife (Pashupati Rai) visits a jhakri (played by writer Upendra Subba) to treat her infertility. He offers her some kheer and she loses consciousness. A few scenes later, she is pregnant. Now, this ordeal, of drugging a vulnerable woman, raping her and her husband confronting the jhakri who gets away is presented as a joke. That scene is glorified in this film, in an unnecessary flashback.
The misogyny, however, is toned down, but it doesn’t seem like it was a conscious effort. Dialogues like ‘I don’t understand women’ or ‘Girls cannot be trusted’, or insults like ‘joitingrey’ (which literally translates to ‘a wife’s slave’) are meant to be jokes. At the top of the pile is a scene where a beautiful landscape shot slowly reveals Kaji dragging Kashi behind him with her hands tied, as if she were an animal. This is the filmmakers’ idea of romance.
The first Kabaddi was complete. It was courageous and inspiring. Young men from theatre and documentary backgrounds armed themselves with DSLRs and captured what could be termed ‘organic cinema’. The most beautiful part of the film was the ending, which was far from traditional. The film let our imaginations run wild. It didn’t need a second installment and definitely not a third one. But Kabaddi made money and when money takes over, the soul is an inevitable loss. The third film, released right before the holidays, feels like nothing more than a Dashain bonus for the team.
The makers have already announced a fourth installment, which will complete Kaji’s saga. Let’s hope that with the final film, Kaji gets the farewell he deserves.
Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi
Actors: Dayahang Rai, Upasana Singh Thakuri, Wilson Bikram Rai, Karma
Writers: Rambabu Gurung, Upendra Subba
Director: Rambabu Gurung
Stars: 2.5 out of 5