How do you make a whopping Sci-Fi fantasy extravaganza in a market that seems to be oversaturated by both? With undoubtedly one of Indian cinema’s most ambitious films ever made, director Nag Ashwin, with “Kalki 2898 AD” (2024), attempts an untethered meeting point of the mythical past and the dystopian future by blending stories from the Mahabharata into a futuristic science fiction world.

Despite being set against the backdrop of imposing cityscapes and barren lands, much of the action of the movie revolves around a soon-to-be mother whom the rebels of a local region, Shambala, believe will birth the reincarnation of God. Thus, Deepika Padukone’s pregnant Sum-80 or Sumati, in a way, becomes the MacGuffin, while Amitabh Bachchan’s towering presence as the immortal Ashwatthama reinforces the thematic basis of this grandiose epic. It’s what brings him out of solitude when he receives signs of the mother’s arrival and takes it upon himself to protect her from all.

But that’s just one of the many story beats and plot points Nag Ashwin’s ambitious film encapsulates. There are also hints at a possible reincarnation, the tussle between myth and modernity, and the hierarchical presence of a supreme leader who must fight to keep his status quo in place. Amidst this, there’s also the massive star power the film relies on, featuring Prabhas’ Bhairava in the middle of the many unfolding arcs. There’s also the bigger question of how “Kalki 2898 AD” manages to set up its universe, laying the groundwork and avenue for at least two sequels. Let’s delve into the plot mechanics and the many surprises the film brings us, including its nail-biting ending that, of course, ends on a cliffhanger.

Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

As hinted at earlier, with “Kalki 2898 AD,” Telugu cinema filmmaker Nag Ashwin rifles through a century of sci-fi and fantasy extravaganzas to create a wholly captivating world that channels the pan-Indian sensibilities to underscore its broader themes. The film begins on the battlefield of the wildly ancient Kurukshetra War that was fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. In it, we watch a silhouetted Lord Krishna curse the mighty warrior Ashwatthama to eternal life as punishment for a grave misdeed he finds himself. However, as many of us already know, he allows the warrior one last shot at redemption if he someday assists in the birth and rise of Kalki – the tenth and final avatar of God Vishnu.

What goes inside the Complex?

After this fateful encounter on the centuries-earlier Kurukshetra War battlefield, the film fast-forwards a few thousand years to the land of Kasi. Described by a character as the first city of the world, it now also stands as the last remaining place holding the civilization in place. Resembling many familiar sets, albeit still being impressively detailed, are the dystopian slums of this viable city, above which lies the Complex.

Who is Supreme Yaskin?

A gargantuan inverted pyramid built high above the huddling streets of the slums, the Complex is home to an abundance of luxuries now hugely unseen in this world. While relying on manual laborers recruited from below, it has private beaches, fancy cars, and extravagant clubs. More importantly, it’s also the place where a ruler named Supreme Yaskin, played by Kamal Haasan, resides.

Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Ending Explained
A still from “Kalki 2898 AD” (2024)

In order to afford a life at the Complex, one needs 1 million credits – the currency of this dystopian land, which now relies on bounty hunters and scavengers to keep its system in check. This is where Bhairava comes in, a quirky bounty hunter adamant on entering the Complex but lacking the obedience to earn it. While the movie sets up its three key landscapes of Earth, demarcated into three distinct areas, including the Complex, the city of Kashi, and Shambala, we spend more time alongside Bhairava learning more about the world.

What is Project K?

He’s the kind of roguish bounty hunter who rolls AI-equipped vehicles with a personal co-pilot while avoiding all the debt collectors hounding him in Kasi. His dream to gain a massive sum of credits arrives soon when a colossal reward is sent out for the capture of SUM-80, a 5-month pregnant woman who escapes from the Complex’s Project K lab. A shielded lab that’s more of a highly locked prison, this is the place where pregnant women are routinely incinerated through secured fluids that can ensure Supreme Yaskin’s mighty longevity.

How does Sumati manage to escape?

Initiated by the supreme himself, Project K is overseen by his commander, Manas, to attain ultimate power. We watch the ferocious Yaskin and his secure compound’s abilities when a scientist attempts to assassinate him with a fabricated serum, only to succumb to both the attempt and his own life. The project, too, is seen to be failing as none of the fecund women are able to carry a healthy baby for beyond three months.

However, in a rare turn of events, SUM-80 is able to keep her baby secretly alive in her womb for five months. Left with no one but this looming hope for a better future, she intends on keeping the baby while managing to escape the forcible tests commander Manas conducts on her. This enables her to finally escape from the Complex. A group of rebel spies and her associates help her reach Shambala, their home base, where they believe she can safely give birth to God.

While on the run through the barren landscapes of the outer desert wasteland en route to the rebel enclave, SUM-80 is renamed Sumati by her newfound allies. Furthermore, this also marks the crucial point where the film introduces Ashwatthama, who has been waiting in seclusion for centuries now in a dark cave to fulfill his last attempt at potential redemption.

The Calling of the Mighty Ashwatthama out of Retribution

When drops of water begin to gently fall on the Shivling of the cave, he believes it’s calling for him to finally rescue the God within the woman’s womb. An unseen 8-foot-tall sage with superhuman strength, Ashwatthama now embarks upon this journey to safely rescue Sumati, swatting away the scavengers and their flying vehicles only to be interrupted in warding by the arrival of Bhairava, though not without his high-tech weaponry. After an overdrawn confrontation that soon turns into a fight, Ashwatthama becomes victorious and finally rescues Sumati to the safely shielded place of Shambhala.

Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Ending Explained:

Why does Bhairava set on kidnapping Sumati?

After his defeat, Bhairava makes a backhand entente with Yaskin’s army commander, Manas, to retrieve Sumati in return for an official entry into the Complex. With the help of a young fellow from Shambala he had come across during his former bounty hunting, Bhairava now sets on entering the rebel hideout. This time around, he seems adamant on taking down Ashwatthama, even upgrading his semi-AI vehicle.

Upon reaching Shambala, a fierce battle ensues between Ashwatthama and Bhairava, both outdoing each other at various points. But soon before either could emerge victorious, Yaskin’s army tracks down Bhairava through Bujji and cracks down onto the safety field of Shambhala. In a third-act CGI-laced battle sequence, chaos erupts as Shambala’s army clashes head-on with Yaskin’s forces headed by Manas while Bhairava tries to get hold of Sumati from his ancient protector. The conflict peaks when Mariam, a senior member of Shambala whom we met earlier in the film, sacrifices her life while battling Manas to sheath the life of Sumati and buy her some time.

Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Ending Explained
Another still from “Kalki 2898 AD” (2024)

Soon after following this sacrifice, Manas traps Ashwatthama under his shackles and sets on to capture Sumati to take her back to the Complex. This leads us to the point the film had been leading up to all this while; after setting up Bhairava’s undefined and ambiguous purpose and throwing multiple hints at his potential reawakening, we see Ashwatthama’s stick fall into Bhairava’s hands. As the background score drains out, we see rain – an unseen phenomenon in the now dystopian land – erupt as we cut to a flashback to the Mahabharata, hinting that our lead might actually be an incarnation of the glorious warrior Karna as the score, as well as the story, reaches its crescendo.

As Karna, Bhairava now defeats Yaskin’s commander atop his flying ship. He rescues Sumati in an adroitly staged sequence in which a wide shot of the ship resembles that of the chariot from the Mahabharata, one where Karna had his famous confrontation with Arjuna. This leaves Ashwatthama in awe, surprised at seeing Bhairava echo the same dialogue that Karna had used during this confrontation in the ancient epic all those centuries ago. However, Bujji soon calls out to Bhairava, snapping him out of his Karna state.

Bhairava comes back to his senses and manages to kidnap Sumati, leaving Ashwatthama trapped by the weapon behind. Even when he does break free from the restraints, he is unsuccessful at halting Bhairava’s eventual escape. Ultimately, Ashwathama is left behind as the story draws to its staggering cliffhanger.

Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Post-Credit Scene Explained:

Does Yaskin Emerge Victorious by the end?

After the events of the climax, Yaskin’s army forces had already secured a drop of serum from Sumanti by force after learning that she was feasibly pregnant. The doctors hand this drop of serum to Counselor Bani, who eventually brings it to Supreme Yaskin. In the post-credit scene of “Kalki 2898 AD”, we watch the Supreme leader inject this serum, causing a riveting transformation as we see its astonishing effects.

After seeing this dramatic change, Bani realizes why Yaskin had been in search of this serum all this long. With only a single drop of it, he sees the Mahabharata fighter Arjuna’s Gandiva bow (a celestial weapon that Arjuna had used during the Kurukshetra War) in front of him. In the film’s final shot, Yaskin lifts up the ancient weapon – that nobody could even touch earlier – to showcase his intensified powers.

How does Kalki 2898 AD (2024) set up its sequel?

Following this surprising physical enhancement, Yaskin tells Bani that he will now go after Sumati personally. After intense foreshadowing and this set-up, it’s likely that we’d see a big clash between the two sides in the follow-up to this accomplished film. In conclusion, a sequel to Nag Ashwin’s cinematic universe is now confirmed, with reports claiming 60% of the second film to have already been completed. Thankfully, we won’t have to wait for much longer to watch it on the big screen, while the box office numbers and audience reception of the first one continue to cement its place as one of India’s most accomplished and ambitious projects ever.

Read More: Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Review: A Visual Effects Extravaganza and World-Building Exercise Pays Off in Dividends, Masking Some of Its Flaws

Trailer:

Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Links: IMDbRotten TomatoesWikipediaLetterboxd
The Cast of Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie: Prabhas, Amitabh Bachchan, Kamal Haasan, Deepika Padukone, Disha Patani
Kalki 2898 AD (2024) Movie Genre:  Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure | Runtime: 2h 45m
Where to watch Kalki 2898 AD

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