Detailed Explanation of Kabali Movie :
If you want to understand Kabali from a Malaysian Indian perspective, read this. I am a Malaysian Indian.
Saavadi – super
Terukva – moosama
Kosong kosong – zero zero (kabali’s gang name is 00)
Gaadi – car
katthai – gun
Poona azhagu – very beautiful
Semmai – awesome
Nasi – rice
Tea-tanni – tea/ caya
Pasiyariyacha – have you eaten breakfast (this is an old tamil word)
Kampong – village
Teh tarik – tea that has been pulled
Amava – is it
Adala kozhikari – theres a treat today.
Sadaiyan – chinese
Paiykirathu – use panrathu (another old tamil word)
Maathirai – drugs
Kuuthali – friends
KL town – Kuala lumpur city
Ktown – kajang town
Masuk – intro or enter into a moment scene.
Most Indian Malaysians are from south India – tamilnadu, Andhra, kerala, Punjab and a small community of north Indians. There are also Pakistanis, srilankan tamils. We are all categorised as Malaysian Indian. The movie refers to the south Indian Malaysians who all speak tamil regardless of their mother tongue. In Malaysia, not being able to speak in Tamil is considered a weakness.
Also not all estate workers were lower caste (as historians like to write) but jobs were segregated by caste and village hieraki. The mandurs (head of estates) were usually head of villages or the rich in india. If you drive down to Kuala Selangor, most of the indian plantation workers there are kaunders. With families having moved as villages to Malaysia. Farmers in Cameron highlands till today are mostly kaunders as well.
Caste inter marriages have been happening from as far as my great grandparents time though it was opposed then. Opposition often was of a tamil marrying a telugu, or even say a kaunder marrying a chettiar, and so forth even before reaching the lower caste part. By the 70s it was much more common though it was still opposed, and also saw fewer families asking for dowry and instead the culture of sharing the cost of weddings began. Today inter caste marriages, inter race marriages are common and is now practiced by most.
Kabali link – For example in Kabali, there is no reference to what caste kabali is. Only that her family opposed as they were vereh jathi. So it could mean that kabalis wife was not from tamilnadu or a different caste in tamilnadu. And not necessarily means Kabali is a dalit.
Another separate issue is that historically the Sri Lankan Tamil (Ceylonese) who were mostly brought in by british as clerks as opposed to most south indians (not all share the same story though) arriving as plantation labourers (estate workers), have a history of thinking they are a higher class than the south Indians due to social status (classism) and skin colour.
However while caste is not openly discussed today, it is still held on to by some and is brought up during marriage or in arguments. Inter religion might be a bigger problem now than inter caste at this point.
KABALI link – At the climax of Kabali, Veerasekaran insults kabali not only from a caste angle but also from a class angle (kabali was a poor estate worker before moving to KL Town). Earlier Tamilnesan’s (former 00 leader) son insults kabali (who was now 00 leader) as “unehlam vithuku ulla vithuruka kudathu.” In the olden days (50s), other castes mainly lower castes were not allowed into homes.
Kabali rises to fame for uprising a movement asking for equal wages for indian workers to be the same as chinese workers.
History of Malaysians Indians before the 18th century Indian or to be exact Kalinga’s (Orissa, Andhra Pradesh) have been trading with South East Asians for centuries. You can see these details in Orissa Musuem. Some merchants remained and married with the locals. They were referred to as kalingans’s which eventually became the derogatory term for Malaysian Indians – Keling.
Kabali link – Keling is mentioned and censored in the climax scene in Malaysia.
History of Malaysian Indians (circa late 18th century, ww2) Historically the Indians who were brought here by the british to work in plantations in the early 19th century were given set wages and lived in homes that were not theirs. Later the British brought chinese labourers to work in the plantations who earned higher wages and were free to move around and build settlements. So the Indians continued to be contracted at low wages and faced eviction if they left.
Durring ww2, the Japanese forced a high number of Malaysians (Indians and Malays) to work at the death railways in Thailand. They were the highest casualty of the death railway (42k out of estimated 90k).
Interesting point while at one point there were 4 million Indians in Malaysia (prior to independence), death, war and mass return to india (happens a few times in our history), by 1957 (Malaysia’s year of independence) the Indian population numbered only 820, 270 of which 62.1% was local born.
Also while the majority of south Indians arrived as labourers not all share the same history. At the height of British occupation and economic advancement in Malaysian in the 18th century, merchants began arriving on invites or tempted by news that reach back about – “pon villayum bumi, malainadu.” – the rich, mountainous land.
They arrived in malaysia with families and built parts of kl, penang, perak there are big chetiar communities in different parts of the country. The main big temples in the city are historically linked to different castes but none of these is mentioned or portrayed in the movie. Indian muslims also arrived as traders, mostly starting food restaurants – nasi kandar.
After ww2, the british returned to find more outspoken Indians (ignited by the INA led by Subhash Chandra Bose) began demanding for better rights, wages and nationality That’s when the All Malayan Rubber Workers Council (AMRWC) led by SVK Moorthi (the President of the Selangor Estate Workers Trade Union) who were fighting for higher wages for estate workers organised a nationwide strike on august 25, 1947.
history of daily wages after 1968 http://www.indianmalaysian.com/plantation_workers.htm
Another point – The 1968 Employment Restrictions Act, which required Malaysian employers to get work permits for non-citizen workers, resulted in thousands of Indian and Chinese plantation workers being forced to leave the country.
What is not portrayed in the movie but theres a silent reference as Amir describes changes in kl to the prison returned Kabali – the fact that as commodity prices dropped, estates were sold and many bonded indian estate workers not only lost jobs but also homes. They eventually ended up in slums and lower cost flats in the city with very little education as education of estate children was not a british priority.
Also nothing refers to MIC – the indian political party https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Indian_Congress
KABALI link – Nassers character and that gathering where he addresses a big crowd (at dataran merdeka) seems to pay homage to SVK Moorthi and the fight for higher wages. In the movie Kabali was inspired by Tamilnesan and organised the uprising in his own estate before joining him in the city and eventually taking over.
Please note AMRWC were not gangsters but a union that fought for the rights of plantation workers. Also the fight for wages in the lowest income group continues till today under different ppl. Arul from Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) is one such leader today.
Gangsters leading the change and fighting for rights which is the basis of kabali is a fictional element to create continuity in the story.
However timeline for this homage is not historical. As there is a photo of Malaysia’s first prime minister (Tunku) moment of independence declaration behind Nasser or Rajni (can’t remember who). So that dates that point in the movie to post independence.
kabali link – Also in the movie Kabali says a line that is similar to a quote by then labour activist Y.K. Menon “We are Indians and slaves to nobody.”
Jeeva’s mother references the historical mass return to India when she explains to kabali about Jeevas fathers whearebouts during the cemetery scene.
Temple demolitions This is an ongoing issue faced by Malaysian Indians and is one of the few reference to the political issues the community has with the government that is slipped into the movie.
Kabali link – In kabali flashback, theres a scene where kabali stops a temple demolition. Whats brilliant is Pa ranjith places it in the flashback part in order to not get the movie banned.
Gangsterism, Drugs in Malaysia
Drugs Opium has been recorded to have been smoked by chinese labourers from way back in the 19th century and was brought in by the british itself. Drugs were actually legal in the early 19 century. But during the Vietnam war, American soldiers used to rest and do drugs in Malaysia which influenced locals and led to Malaysia becoming a trafficking spot. This despite Malaysia having a death penalty for drug trafficking. http://www.adk.gov.my/html/pdf/jurnal/2007/1-1.pdf
I cant give you an exact history of when it started. But it was chinese led at first before Indians joined in and they formed this various gangs, some taking over or starting their own. Each area has a gang that dominates it. But it is a serious problem amongst the indian youth especially as recruitment starts from school. 71% of gang members in Malaysia are Indians. http://cilisos.my/dei-why-are-so-many-malaysian-gang-members-indian/
Kabali link – in the movie Kabali’s gang is refered to as kosong kosong (00). This is actually referencing an actual indian gang in Malaysia – 08 or 04. While Tony lee’s 43 is similar to the 36 gang which has an elaborate logo.
08 and 36 have been around for decades, I can safely say since at least the 60s. both are historically rival gangs and often kill each other.
In Kabali gangs are headed by one big don – ang lee. I don’t think this is true. I don’t know to be honest. But what I do know is the head of don’s now are educated and actually are well dressed, like any other professional like how kabala and tony lee dress up. But they are way up the gang hierarki and are not known by most in the gangs. Local area gangs are headed by dons that look like veerasekaran, sampath. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2013/08/30/police-reveal-gang-logos/
Kabali link – Are petshops façade for gangs? any business can be a façade for illegal business. I recently bumped into a grocery store being the façade for Myanmar gangsters while on a photowalk in KL. So there is a possibility.
Gang meetings often happen at small chinese coffee shops restaurants. The term is – table talk variya (or lets talk over drinks at the coffee shop). Chinese coffee shops are choosen as they serve alcohol while indian restaurants and mamaks do not serve alcohol.
Kabali link – this is shown in the scene where veerasekaran meets jeeva alone. There are only two of them talking but the moment Jeeva holds Tony lees collar, his men come out and chase after him and a gun fight ensues. When the director focuses on jeeva and veerasekaran, you will notice there are indian men sitting in a group at the background. That is no coincidence. Those were veerasekarans men. That is how actual table talks between gangs happen. And any gang fight happens outside the shop, rarely inside.
Kabali link – There are no known gangsters that are doing good for the people like kabali. That is a FICTIONAL portrayal. And I believe Pa ranjith had to do that to create a commercial mass rajni movie while highlighting all the issues of the past and current segment of Malaysian Indians.
However gangsters have always been linked to indian leaders in Malaysia and the political scene. Mostly to keep rival politicians controlled in the party itself. There are also cases of gangsters standing for elections in the recent election. They are evolving.
Kabali link – When seeni dies, there is an elaborate funeral procession. That isn’t fiction. It actually does happen here
Kabali link – the “poojai” kudukanum scene where veerasekaran goes to a temple to give sacrifice actually happens here with gang dons here being religious but practising the traditional sacrificial methods. This is also prevalent in small temples (not necessarily gang related) around the estates till today. None of the big temples in the urban area allow this traditional practice.
Kabali link – the kali temple shown in the scene, there are many scattered around rawang, kuala Selangor. And bali kuduthal (animal sacrifice) still happens till today.
Current Malaysian Indian issues After independence schools were built in estates and more Indians got education but not all did due to economical issues. Also higher education wasn’t that easy to achieve due to economic status. So most would work right after A levels or drop out of school even earlier to work to support the families. Jobs and earning capacity for these segment got lesser and lesser due to many reasons.
Indians are a minority in Malaysia, we make up 7 % of the population but 71% of gang members in Malaysia are Indians. How did that happen?
The poorer segment of the community continue to earn very little and there’s a reoccurring cycle that happens. Young men who started working by 15 some heading into gangsters but mostly low wage jobs, start having gfs by 17, may marry or leave the gfs once they are pregnant and have kids. Kids (are not taken away as shown in the movie) grow poor, if lucky get placed in orphanages, at 15 single mothers tend to take the kid back (legally parents have rights on the children according to Malaysian laws no matter if they can afford to look after them) to make the kids work for the family and the cycle continues.
Most turn to becoming gangsters not just for more money (it’s a fallacy that lower rung gangsters earn well but that is the common perception.) but for respect. If you are labelled a gangster, you will earn respect more out of fear than you would as a poor person. (the Malaysian movie jagat portrays this story of the gang cycle).
Kabali link: the girl meena’s (who calls kabali appa) story is this or the early part of the cycle. Jeeva and his mom is a perfect example of the later part of the cycle. She being a lower rung drug pusher despite having an education (after the husband leaves), he being drawn to the gangster life and refuses to study as he sees his mom having an education but not a good life. Their life conditions are portrayed through the glimpse of their home at her death scene. Small, dark, in a shoddy flats.
These are the Indians mostly portrayed in the movie. But you also see characters like Amir, fathima, kumaran (tamilnesans grandson) who are professionals and live in better conditions. Compare Jeeva’s home to amirs beautiful white lit home. That is the perfect portrayal of two vastly different economical situations of Malaysian Indians.
Kabali link – Maarkandayan represents the richer Malaysian indian who will do anything to earn money. These are the rich scammers who are not necessarily gang linked but are able to scam people for a lot of things, like houses and more.
The indian vs chinese
In the movie the Chinese are shown to be pulling down the Indians who try to rise above them and not under them like seeni, veerasekaran.
Indians now (please note im trying to be detailed but not as detailed as this is getting too long)
In the last two decades there is a growing problem that affects both the poorer and middle class segment of Malaysian Indians. Government wise – the National Economic Plan (NEP) led to less representation of Indians in the government sector. It is harder to become a cop, government servant, or work for a GLC if you are not Malay.
Until the 1970s, a lot of government or government linked companies and the police sector had loads of Indians in them. That is why till today, KL Mariamman temple Navarathri festival is represented by different business and govt groups. TNB (electrical board) people, Railway people (railway employees) and more. All of these groups will be mentioned annually. https://www.facebook.com/Kortumalai-Ganesar-Temple-357848150965743/photos
The chinese in the city were mostly merchants, business owners even from back then and not really known as government workers (I might be wrong on this one).
However after 1970s, hiring of non Malays got very hard. So was getting a placement in the local universities. No matter how high your grades, coveted spots in the medical seats, engineering seats were very hard to get. You could still get in, but not to your choice of education course. That led to the rise of expensive private education that is not within the reach of everyone.
So if you can’t get placed in the government, naturally people turned to the private sectors. Now there is where the other discrimination begins.
There is actually a “we don’t hire Indians” practice amongst many businesses in the private sector which are mostly owned and led by the chinese companies. The funny thing is the majority of Malays are also affected by this. The NEP does not benefit all Malays.
And it goes beyond just jobs, try renting a house in the city if you are indian. Regardless of your professional or financial background, this is a HUGE problem. I recently documented my own road blocks on this situation. Where I was rejected by 15 home owners (all chinese) before I finally got to rent my current place, despite putting in an advance booking fee, even before I got the house. And I am a professional, holding a managerial position.
This extends to the financial sector as well. It is much harder for an indian to get a loan/ credit card in a bank. In shopping malls, credit card sales people practically ignore us when we walk pass and target mostly the chinese. In a way its good coz I don’t want to be hounded by sales rep but the racist profiling is very saddening. If you ask the banks they will tell you it is coz theres a higher rate of rejections, however they fail to mention that there are higher restrictions for application criterias for Indians as compared to the Chinese.
So no matter if you have an education or not, it is harder for an Indian to get jobs in either the private or government sector. Also most professional Indians seem to earn a lower wage than their other race colleagues as compared even with the same experience, expertise and education. And this is a bigger problem for indian males. They also have to deal with social stigma. Walk into a lift in any building, and the occupants will start clutching their bags tighter and move away from them. Same thing happens if one drives by. Basically the social stereotype is that all male Indians are gangsters or thieves.
Now all this doesn’t even take into account the current entitled, lazy, spoilt attitudes of gen y. this is a basic summary of growing issuesin the community.
Kabali link – the private sector discrimination (and government discrimination in a way) is what the climax speech by kabali to Tony Lee is probably about but I can’t say for sure as the whole speech was censored in Malaysia. I need to find a copy of it to know more (someone send me the video pls)
Kabali link – after the launch of the bakery at the end, a group of youngsters meet Rajni and talk about this issues very briefly. One guy says I don’t think ill pass, at least she will pass. She on the hand says, “pass panna mathum vehlai kadaichirumma” (its not as if I will get a job if I pass). She also says private education is expensive (reference to not getting placements in public univs). That is how brilliantly the director has mentioned all these issues into one moment, without touching further to ruffle political feathers or more so the movie doesn’t get banned.
Gangsters and police
So if theres so much gangsterism, why isn’t the police doing much? Well as in the movie, the police here have an interesting policy when dealing with gangs.
Gangs here often have turf wars. Where like in the movie the kill each other. The police know this is happening and often sit in the background monitoring everything and sometimes taking the credit for the killing to control the message that goes to the public.
Kabali link – opening scene, the top cop (the malay man) says we will handle him our way if needed. Same man then opens the bakery in the ending.
Kabali link – the indian cop talks about how even he is often treated in suspicion of being a criminal. But do you notice he appears to know Kabali’s whereabouts, getting him out of the country quietly, escorting him up to the plane at the airport (while tony lees ppl attack the banglo in the palm oil forest?), meeting him at the airport.
Basically Malaysian cops know the movements of the local gangs and mostly let them be as long as public is not physically harmed occasionally catching the smaller guys in drug and prostitution raids.
Kabali link – in the climax, tony lees drugs are seized at the port by cops and vice dens are raided. Killed there are the lower dons and not the top dons who are partying at another event. Which is similar to the hieraki of gangs here. The bigger dons are rarely killed or at the raids as they don’t do the dirty job of running the business.
In real life, a turf war between rival gangs often happens. You will suddenly here a news, man gunned down here, at this flat, at the traffic light. The news will last in the news for few weeks before it all quietens down. Basically the cops warn off the gangsters to stop or they kill them and this leads to all turf wars stopping for a while.
2013 ops cantas
Now the 2013 ops cantas (eradicate or shoot at sight) began after Malaysia abolished the ISA in 2012. The ISA not only put away political opponents but also gangsters that police knew of their activities but had no proof to arrest. Under ISA anyone can be arrested without a criminal proceedings if deemed to be a threat to national security. When these old dons came out to find their old turfs taken over, they launched their own turf war. After a few months, the cops launched ops cantas.
Kabali link – Kabali was detained under ISA and released around that time after the abolishment of ISA. He comes out and immediately leads a turf war with gang 43.
2014 a cop was shot dead
2015 ops cantas
the infamous bentong kali https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._Kalimuthu
Gang killings on the rise in Klang over drug trade war http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/gang-killings-on-the-rise-in-klang-over-drug-trade-war
About Malaysian cops capabilities in dealing with gangs – actual gang shoot outs http://cilisos.my/how-likely-are-you-to-survive-a-shootout-with-pdrm/
Kabali link – when kabali runs down the drug dealer with his car. The news report shows the cops taking credit for the death of loga. That is why everytime one don dies, there are tv reports shown and you see veerasekaran mumbling about the report by the journalist on kabali’s death as no body was found but cops reported Kabali was dead.
Kabali link – by the way you can drive to Bangkok from Malaysia but it takes freaking 18 hours to get there. And pretty easy to cross the border. In some parts there are no border gates between both countries and you can easily walk across.
Kabali ending – the same indian cop who was helping kabali throughout the movie, arranges for Tiger to execute kabali. That is how the cops deal with gangs. Which refers back to “we will deal with him our way” (as said by the top cop in the opening scene). Basically no one ultimate power should remain, and the cops still are the ultimate powers.
Kabali ending in Malaysia – shows a screen note that kabali surrenders to the police. This is the cops and censorship at its best showing what they want you to see. Sure do a movie about the gangs but remember the cops are in control at the end of the day. Which is actually the truth.
Who is tiger? Tiger represents the current generation of poor Malaysian Indians who no matter what re-education they go through, will opt for the gang life as they don’t see a hope of getting a job or respect by suffering like the rest who try to earn an honest living. He is a jolly angry youngster. Each of his appearance is similar to the story of the average poor indian who are stuck in this cycle. Tiger is there at the end during the gang fight on the rooftop but he is captured by the cops. Why did the cops capture him and not the rest? Coz he can be swayed and broken to do the cops bidding – which is to eliminate kabali.
Does this mean Indian Malaysians are suffering?
Yes and no.
yes there are a lot of problems and it is a struggle to not be another statistic. And it is kinda getting worse for all classes. To be honest if you are poor, an indian – you are like a third class citizen the worst position on the list. The poor malays fall into these category as well but they still can get government assistance in some ways. There are also poor chinese people but their percentage is very small and they aren’t treated as the scums of the society. There are also criminals, gangsters in all races in all states.
The professionals or employed middle class can be likened to a second class citizen. The rich are rich no matter where. So if you as a Malaysian indian has never gone through any of this or don’t see this happening – that makes you a privileged Malaysian indian.
The most similar global reference to this situation is the blacks in America. The black lives matter campaign talks about similar issues as what the Malaysian Indians face. We are probably a decade or two away from cops shooting down any indian male for just being in an area or for putting their hands in their pockets.
No it is not the end of the world here. We don’t live in hate of other races. Not all malays and chinese are racists and discriminatory. We actually live in harmony, mostly. I took a chinese friend to watch Kabali yesterday. Yes we watch each others movies, eat each others food, marry inter races, and have wonderful friends across the races. Most Malaysians share similar sentiments despite a growing number of stereotypes in the country.
I also got lucky both at work and friends but even in a professional arena I have had indian stereotypes thrown at me, no matter how long my success and credibility list is. And if I were to go out and look for a job, despite my success it will take a long time for even me to get a job. I have indian friends who have been on a job hunt for the last year or so and have been rejected numerous times. And in the past I have felt the same rejection many times.
Years ago circa 2009, a listed chinese property company called me for a telephone interview and she sent me an email with all the details of the interview date and time and requested for my photo for security clearance. So I sent her my photo. Right after I got an email that the interview was cancelled. Turns out I wasn’t the right coloured indian they were willing to hire despite their interest in my capabilities.
Kabali link – the dark skin reference is mentioned when kabali says his wife loved his dark skin despite her being fair. That was not a random point. That’s an actual issue here.
Do we hate being Malaysians?
On contrary i love being a Malaysian despite everything and I only identify myself as a Malaysian. And to be honest similar issues happen worldwide to minorities anywhere.
Do I want change?
I want people to give chances to downtrodden people who are poor and caught in a vicious cycle. We can’t change politics that easily but we can change how we treat and perceive a fellow Malaysia. So stop stereotyping?
Conclusion – what directorial brilliance!
So if you made it to this point. You’ll realise how brilliantly Pa Ranjith has weaved actual issues, actual history into the fictional realistic commercial movie that is Kabali.
I don’t know how long he took to research our story or how much reading he did. It took me half a day to write this as I wanted to get the history as exact as possible and provide supporting links for further reading. I would so love to ask him a gazillion questions and if someone could tag him on this. I would like to know if he knew all this references as I don’t think even Malaysians will get all the references in the movie as much as I did.
I wrote this simply to show how brilliant his script was despite all the negative comments based simply on a lack of understanding. One day in the future this movie and its script will receive its acknowledgement.
Most of all THANK YOU Pa Ranjith for writing this script for us Indian Malaysians.
Note: if there are historical inaccuracies, apologies. I am making analytical gueses based on my knowledge of Malaysian history. if info is omitted or not explained enough, its coz im trying to keep this as short and detailed as possible.
To my other race friends: I hold no grudge on anyone as many know, i am just stating actual issues as it is. Also I believe these challenges only make us stronger, more resilient. I am hoping this will also serve as an educational understanding of the Malaysian indian conundrum.
Source : Facebook Rajinikanth Fan