Indian sci-fi epic is too good a thing

Subtlety is the name of the game in this new Telugu-language sci-fi fantasy epic that borrows from so many similarly themed predecessors that the film could be screened at copyright lawyers’ conferences. Boasting stunning CGI, spectacular action scenes and the kind of wildly entertaining, over-the-top performance from Indian superstar Prabhas that shows why movie stars were invented, Kalki 2898 AD The film is more style-driven than substance-driven and much longer than necessary. But it offers value for money to the audience, and its box-office success proves that the makers weren’t too optimistic when they proclaimed “The Kalki Cinematic Universe Continues” during the end credits.

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

Kalki 2898 AD

The essential

Overloaded, but so spectacular that viewers might not care.

Release date: June 27
Casting: Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Kamal Haasan, Disha Patani

3 hours 1 minute

6,000 years later (check the movie 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 actually got better in the future) in which the elites naturally hoard precious resources, including water, which can be purchased with “credits.” These upper crust types live in a giant inverted pyramid called the “Compound,” which thankfully doesn’t have “Trump” emblazoned on it, while the plebeians live in a shantytown below. The Complex is overseen by Supreme Yaskin (Kamal Haasan), who seems to be in desperate need of moisturizer. He runs the nefarious Project K, which drains pregnant women of their fluids, using them as a youth serum. Afterward, they are incinerated.

One of these tragic women, SUM-80 (Deepika Padukone), manages to escape, with a bounty on her head. Enter the roguish bounty hunter (are there any other types of bounty hunters?) Bhairava (Prabhas), who is desperate to earn enough credits to ascend to the Complex. That’s when Ashwatthama (remember him?) re-enters the scene to protect SUM-80, Kalki’s prophesied mother. The 6,000 years have apparently been good to Ashwatthama, because he is now a…

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