Director: S. Shankar
Cast: Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Sudhanshu Pandey
Is there such a thing as an over-fertile imagination? What is that tipping point when dazzling becomes exhausting? And how many versions of Superstar Rajinikanth can one film juggle successfully?
I struggled with these questions when I stepped out of 2.0 – the sequel to the blockbuster Enthiran or Robot, released in 2010. Shankar has created a unique spectacle that is at once, a cautionary tale against our over-dependence on cell phones, an eco-fable about how critical birds are for human survival and a treatise arguing for the balanced use of technology. It’s also a testament to the brilliance of Shankar himself who is determined to give us the ride of a lifetime and to the staggering charisma of Rajinikanth who appears as Dr. Vaseegaran and several versions of the robot Chitti. There’s also Akshay Kumar as the baddie Pakshi Rajan – he’s effectively menacing and the look, especially the avian eyebrows are deadly. Could this birdman be cinema’s first ornithologist villain?
2.0 is a sensory overload. The film has over 2000 special effect shots. It’s the first time that an Indian film has been shot in 3D. And for the first hour at least, the visuals are hypnotic. The idea of cell phones turning on humans is genius. Shankar bung in throwaway lines that firmly establish our addiction to our devices – one woman begging the cops to help her retrieve her missing phone says she had hooked it to her mangalsutra and lost that too. Another man inquires – i Phone ke liye alag section hai? It’s funny and alarming because we all know this is exactly the scenario that would play out if we had to live without our phones for a day.
We witness death by cell phone – literally. Shankar, who has also written the screenplay, builds up to the introduction of Pakshi Rajan, his backstory and his connection with birds. Through the first half, we are only seeing thousands of phones flying together to make a bird-like creature. The suspense is carefully constructed. But what Robot had and what 2.0 lacks is a strong emotional quotient. The first film tackled complex ideas of human emotions and hubris and what happens when the creation turns on the creator. 2.0 is visually overpowering – the VFX are mostly first-rate – but the screenplay doesn’t offer the seamless mix of romance, drama and comedy. Some of the writing is lazy. Though Amy Jackson’s casting as the humanoid robot Nila will make you smile. She’s suitably expression-free. Of course, women have little to do here – in once scene, Dr. Vasi refers to Nila as a laptop.
The vigilante theme, a constant in Shankar movies, is repeated one more time. Post-interval, we go into a flashback within a flashback to discover why Pakshi Rajan is who he is. Lots of jargon is tossed in and at one point, there is a discussion on positive signals versus negative Shakti and microphoton minus death ka aura or something like that. My head started to hurt.
Shankar’s cinema uniquely combines scale with social message. Just in case you’ve missed the point of this film, at the end, Dr. Vaseegaran spells it out again. Like everything else in 2.0, it’s a tiring overdose.
But you need to see the film just to see what ambition and imagination and the confluence of talented artists – among others, VFX supervisor Srinivas Mohan, cinematographer Nirav Shah, sound designer Resul Pookutty and editor Anthony – can create. And of course, you need to see it to appreciate the singular sensation that Rajinikanth continues to be. At one point Chitti declares – bhag jana mere software mein nahin hai. That’s my new motto.