Review: ‘Kalki 2898 AD,’ starring Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Deepika Padukone and Disha Patani

June 28, 2024

by Carla Hay

Prabhas in “Kalki 2898 AD” (Photo courtesy of Prathyangira Cinemas and AA Creations)

“Kalki 2898 AD”

Directed by Nag Ashwin

Telugu with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India in the year 2898 (and briefly in 3102 B.C.), the fantasy action film “Kalki 2898 AD” features a predominantly Indian cast of characters (with some white people and black people) who are mortal humans or immortal gods.

Culture Clash: A bounty hunter gets caught up in a race against time with heroes and villains to find the woman who will give birth to a deity named Kalki.  

Culture Audience: “Kalki 2898 AD” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching overly long action movies that have more style than substance.

Amitabh Bachchan in “Kalki 2898 AD” (Photo courtesy of Prathyangira Cinemas and AA Creations)

Bloated and incoherent, “Kalki 2898 AD” is weighed down by bad acting, a rambling story, uneven pacing, and erratic visual effects. This fantasy action film, based on Indian mythology, rips off well-known franchises “Star Wars,” “Mad Max” and “Pacific Rim” for much of how the movie looks. The characters in the movie also have hollow personalities and lackluster or terrible dialogue. And this nearly three-hour movie does not justify its overly long run time, when the story could’ve been told in a movie that is two hours or less.

Directed by Nag Ashwin, “Kalki 2898 AD” was co-written by Ashwin and Rutham Samar. It’s one of those unfortunately long-winded and bombastic movies that seems to think over-the-top visual spectacles will automatically make an action film entertaining. The characters are so poorly written, viewers will have a hard time remembering anything memorable that these characters said after the movie ends. “Kalki 2898 AD” just careens from one fight scene to the next.

“Kalki 2898 AD” (which takes place in a fantasy version of India) does a substandard job of introducing characters and explaining the purpose of the story. The movie’s opening scene takes place in 3102 B.C., after the Kurukshetra War. Ashwatthama (played by Kushal) is the young adult son of a warrior named Dronacharya. While invoking the Brahmashirastra, Ashwatthama shoots an arrow at a pregnant princess named Uttarā (played by Malvika Nair), whose unborn son is Parakshit, in an attempt to kill Uttarā and her unborn child.

The deity Krishna then confronts Ashwatthama on a battlefield filled with dead bodies, Krishna curses Ashwatthama to a life of immortality. A magical gem that Ashwatthama has is then taken away. Much of this movie is about Ashwatthama trying to find this gem so he can place it back in his forehead and regain certain powers.

The only way for Ashwatthama to break the curse is to find an unborn child named Kalki, who is supposed to be the last living representation of the god Vishu. Ashwatthama knows that Kalki will be born centuries in the future. And so, finding Kalki is villain Ashwatthama’s main quest in the story.

“Kalki 2898 AD” then cuts to about 6,000 years later, in the year 2898. Even though Ashwatthama received this immortality curse when he was a young man, he somehow still grows up to look like an elderly man who’s stuck looking like he’s in his 80s. Amitabh Bachchan, who has the role of elderly Ashwatthama, was in his early 80s when he filmed this movie.

If the “Kalki 2898 AD” filmmakers had more imagination, they would have made Ashwatthama actually look like he’s more than 6,000 years old. There was certainly enough money spent on visual effects in other aspects of the film, but none was spent on imagining what a 6,000-year-old immortal person would look like. The visual effects in “Kalki 2898 AD” are hit-and-miss: Sometimes, they look spectacular. Other times, they just look tacky.

Most of the action takes place in a desolate desert city called Kasi, which looks like imitation production sets from “Mad Max” and “Star Wars” films. Kasi is a city populated by survivors of an apocalypse. Kasi is ruled by a tyrant god king named Supreme Yaskin (played by Kamal Haasan), who lives in a pyramid-shaped structure called the Complex, which hovers above Kasi. The Complex uses Earth’s resources to have an idyllic oasis existence for those who can afford to stay there.

Yaskin is aided by two nefarious subordinates who carry out Yaskin’s orders of oppression: Commander Manas (played by Saswata Chatterjee) is the head of an army called Raiders. Counsellor Bani is on the frontlines in a lot of the dirty work. There’s also a group of rebels resisting this totalitarian government.

It’s all very much a concept copy from the 1977 “Star Wars” movie. Just substitute Emperor Palpatine for Yaskin, Darth Vader for Commander Manas, Grand Moff Tarkin for Counsellor Bani, and Stormtroopers for Raiders. “Kalki 2898 AD” didn’t even bother changing the name of the rebel group to something that doesn’t used the word “rebels,” which is the same word that the “Star Wars” movies have for the group of resisting fighters.

In the city of Kasi, fertile females are kidnapped and sold into imprisonment as part of a scientific experiment called Project K. These female prisoners are impregnated through artificial insemination. The fetuses of pregnant women who are trapped in Project K are supposed to be used as serum to extend the life of Yaskin.

Only fetuses that are more than 120 days old can effectively be used for this serum. The problem is that most of these Project K women can’t carry their pregnancies past 120 days. However, there’s a pregnant woman named Sumathi (played by Deepika Padukone), who is given the code name SUM-80 in the Project K program, and she has a pregnancy that lasts for more than 120 days. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who her unborn child is.

The “Star Wars” influences abound in the presentation of “rogue warrior” Bhairava (played by Prabhas in “Kalki 2898 AD” Bhairava, who is a bounty hunter and frequent thief, is obviously a version of Han Solo from the “Star Wars” movies. Bhairava is a sarcastic and reluctant hero, who would rather carouse and get drunk in nightclubs, but he gets pulled into this “good versus evil” saga anyway. Bhairava is the pilot of a space ship and has a talking robot co-pilot named BU-JZI, also known as Bujji (voiced by Keerthy Suresh), which is a less-entertaining version of C-3PO from the “Star Wars” movies.

Unlike the movies in the “Stars Wars,” “Mad Max” and “Pacific Rim” franchises, “Kalki 2898” has more female characters and gives them slightly more to do. But that’s not saying much when these characters are so shallow, and much of their worth is defined by how fertile they might or might not be. The female characters who are part of the action include Mariam (played by Shobhana), the leader of a secret city called Shambhala; Kyra (played by Anna Ben), a Shambhala rebel; and Roxie (played by Disha Patani), who is Bhairava’s love interest. Roxie is nowhere close to being as charismatic and intelligent as Leia, Han Solo’s love interest in “The Star Wars” movies.

The space ships and costumes in “Kalki 2898” are influenced by how space ships and costumes look in “Star Wars” movies. Many of the large, roving land vehicles in the desert are straight out of what can be seen in “Mad Max” films. The heroes in “Kalki 2898” operate giant robots that look like they could be siblings of the giant robots in the “Pacific Rim” films. All of this unoriginality gets tiresome to watch and even more irritating because the characters are so sloppily written.

There are people presented as holograms, and there are attacks from clones (in other words, more “Star Wars” concept ripoffs) that are part of the “Kalki 2898 AD” story. Some of this movie’s viewers might be dazzled by all the high-priced visuals in “Kalki 2898 AD,” but the movie’s story is just a complete mess that doesn’t have much innovation. And even worse: The movie ends on a cliffhanger because of planned sequels, thereby prolonging this excessively long and tedious saga. “Kalki 2898 AD” became a huge and immediate hit in India. But just because a movie is popular doesn’t mean it has good or imaginative filmmaking.

Prathyangira Cinemas and AA Creations released “Kalki 2898 AD” in U.S. cinemas on June 27, 2024, the same day that the movie was released in India.

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