The hype surrounding a Rajini film coupled with the sky-high expectations of a Shankar film along with the added incentive of seeing Hindi star Akshay Kumar in a negative role in Tamil filmdom easily made 2.0 the most keenly anticipated Tamil film of the year. And true to the promise in the film’s trailer, the film does have all the elements of a mass entertainer – fast paced action, thrilling fight sequences, a highly impressive sound track, new ways of imaging and an intriguing array of incidents, innovative CGI and VFX never before seen in Indian cinema, and Super Star Rajini not in one, two or just three, but in an unexpected four avatars ranging from a scientist to good robot to bad one, to microbot, a menacing unbeatable villain – all presented in 3D for our viewing pleasure. But… Yes there’s a but and I’ll come to that later.
There’s nothing like watching a Rajinikanth film in the theatres in Tamil Nadu and 2.0 was no exception. The cinema hall resounded with applause as the creative 3D presentation of the iconic ‘SUPERSTAR RAJINI’ name card greeted us mere inches from our eyes. The film opens with a suicide from a mobile transmission tower with an intonation that the world belongs equally to all living creatures followed by the scattering of distressed birds. We are in a futuristic time in India where all mobile phones fly into space mysteriously across the city as if pulled up by an unseen gravitational force and so, it is time to bring in suave scientist, Vaseegaran, to provide a solution. Cheers and loud cries of ‘Thalaiva’ greeted his appearance on screen as is expected. However, what was interesting to see was the equally raucous cheers that greeted Shankar’s name as the credits rolled and for Amy Jackson’s introductory scene as NILA (Nice intelligent Lovely Assistant) as well. The loudest cheers were, of course, reserved for Chitti the robot as he was brought back to life, followed later for the Evil Chitti, ‘reloaded, version 2.0’ as he is resurrected to overcome a moral conscience. But when the new diminutive Kutty 3.0 showed up on a pigeon, the whistles were deafening.
Now, to the actual film. In 2.0, Shankar sticks to some of his favourite tropes – the corruption in the corporate and political world, and the greed that drives them to push through projects and business agendas unmindful of the harm they unleash, the need to punish them and the social message that he chooses to convey; in 2.0, it being being to save bird life and reduce the high levels of radiation from mobile towers owing to increased cellular phone use.
The story unfolds as a fight between good and good turned evil v/s evil and finally it turns to good/evil both gone awry v/s the greater common good. But (yes, here’s the but), Shankar, the otherwise master storyteller, falters between us having to empathising with the endangered birds, the loving Birdman turned killer, Pakshi Raja, the good intentions of Vaseegaran, Chitti, NILA, and, of course, the other manifestations of Chitti. This confuses the hell out of us. Who do we root for? The man who cares about all life on earth, the man who has created robots with no clear idea of how to control them or the robots given a primary task and merely accomplishing their job? This stays with us right through the film even as we watch otherwise with admitted fascination, the high adrenalin stunts and sky formations.
Shankar’s protagonist is usually the emotionally-scarred person, who takes up the hard task of punishing the bad guys. Here instead, the antagonist has all our sympathies and with a weakly etched out Vaseegaran, the scientist’s valiant attempts to save the world from a man who is righting a wrong, is a bit of a let down. To make things more disappointing, the glaring gaps in the story, along with generally lacklustre characterisations and some obviously improvised sequences, point to either hasty writing, distracted direction, or over emphasis on the graphics and animation with little focus on live action elements and simple storytelling tools. The emotional connect does not happen throughout the film, which is rather surprising for a Shankar film. Further, the blurring of good and evil is symptomatic of contemporary cinematic trends where our ‘anti-heroes’ are cheered on as they pull off criminal acts, and daring heists. ‘What’s a death or two in the larger game of entertainment?’, seems to be the callous attitude of writers and filmmakers and unfortunately, our audiences too.
If the screenplay leaves a lot to be desired regarding the film’s narrative flow, the dialogues (Jeyamohan and Lakshmi Saravanakumar) also rely much too much on memes and silly jokes, thereby diluting the impact of many scenes. A lot of puns on mobile billing and mechanical voice messages just don’t work. The few punch dialogues that draw laughs are by Chitti when he says, “Indha sethu pozhaikardhula thani sugam!” (There is a special joy in coming back to life from death!) or “Indha rank one twolaam paappa vilayattu. (Only children play with first and second ranks) I’m the only one, the super one!”, you smile and wait for more. But it never happens. Instead we get, Birdman, I am Ironman” in a parody of sorts on Hollywood superheroes. Seriously?
In terms of performances, Rajinikanth is surprisingly subdued and his famed energy and style are in short supply while Amy Jackson tries hard to fit into the robotic body language. However, the bit of Rajini as Kutty sparkles no end – even when he threatens to twist the necks of helpless birds. Rajini also plays to type in his dismissal of Nila as a mere doll as Dr Vaseegaran and by practically molesting her as the bad Chitti. That it is left to the female do the crucial jobs and donate her MPU (Memory Processing Unit) is a positive I guess. Further, his repetitive use of ‘Dot’ grates. Also, the extensive scientific input and the lengthy explanations by Vaseegaran will force the audience to put up their hands in exasperation and say “TMI (Too Much Information), Dr.”
Akshay Kumar impresses with his first Tamil outing as the antagonist to Rajini’s hero(s). More than Rajini, it is he, who wins our hearts as the gentle amiable bird loving ornithologist – styled much like the late Salim Ali – who transforms into the frustrated angry Birdman taking revenge against wrongdoers. As each kill by the angry Birdman unfolds, we root more and more for him even as we look on in awe at the way the sequences have been conceptualised – a room full of cellphones buzzing, a road that transforms into a tsunami of glowing mobile screens, and a giant diamond encrusted mobile phone case. And as the battle heats up between the self-assigned protector of birds threatened by radiations from mobile towers and the rebooted Robot, the ‘bird cloud’, the cellphone walls that trap the hundreds of fans inside the stadium, where the final fight sequences take place, the bird cage made up of hundreds of Chittis, the innumerable birds that are flown by multiple Kuttys and the humungous forms that Chitti and Pakshi Raja assume much Lord Vishnu’s Viswaroopam.
Story problems aside, the technical brilliance in 2.0 is undeniable as is the superb detailing and planning in cinematography (Nirav Shah) leverages the 3D format and the film’s huge budget to create some stunning frames. And though the visualisation is mesmerising with the hi-fi science labs, the new fembot, NILA , and the creation of the Birdlike killer etc, the various Production Design Departments (Art, Costumes, Make Up) seem to have focussed only on the robots looking realistic and the labs looking futuristic, but not much else. In terms of sound design, Resul Pookutty does a star turn in the way he captures the bird sounds and executes the amazing foley effects, while AR Rehman’s music supports the grandiose events unfolding on screen. Kevin Bates’ stunts keep us on the edge of our seats but above all, the VFX team led by Srinivas Mohan is the backbone of the film as it brings to life all of Shankar’s well-conceived visuals most effectively. Anthony, however, seems to have been a little choppy on the Editing table, creating an uneven narrative flow that has left a lot of the sutures for the audience to stitch up and complete themselves. And the biggest missing factor in the film are the elaborately choreographed song sequences that are a Shankar staple (and also that of Rajini). Shankar attempts to make up for it with a song at the end just before the end credits roll. But that just leaves us feeling all the more unsatisfied.
A visual spectacle unlike any seen in our films, 2.0 may well rake in the moolah especially across the world but in the heart of Rajiniland and his fans, it is a let down. And that, to me, cannot make up for all the brilliance in technology. Shankar Sir, you lost us at Auras and negative energies. Dot.
Tamil. Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Color