Cast: Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Adil Hussain
Director: S. Shankar
When you love someone or something, it’s hard to let go. And it’s harder still if not just your own survival, but the well-being of an entire film industry depends on it. Or, well, him.
“Superstar” Rajinikanth is perhaps one of the most loved actors of our times. He has not just made a lot of money for a lot of people, but also resides in the hearts of his devotional fans where he smiles and repeatedly flips a cigarette into his mouth, or twirls his “cooling glasses” off and on his face while saying, “Mind it”.
Rajini Sir is one of those few stars who seamlessly shot into that realm of hyper adolescent imagination where superheroes with superpowers dwell without actually playing one.
And now that he is 67 years old, directors, fans and perhaps he himself are finding it hard to let go.
Thus, the process of embalming.
The mummification of “Superstar” Rajinikanth began in 2010, with Enthiran, S. Shankar’s film that retold the story of Ramayan with Ravan as the robot Chitti. Rajini Sir played both, Ram and Ravan.
There, for the first time, the ageing superstar whose creaking joints and stiff movements the camera would not have been able to look away from, was turned into a machine for most part of the film — so, the slow, robotic movements with the same wooden expression throughout was given a reason, a context.
Despite this, Rajini fans danced when he made his “entry” as the hero and again as the villain.
Eight years later, we are being made to revisit project mummification, 2.0. And honestly, having to genuflect at a superstar who has been airbrushed and back-dated on a computer screen into a rather stiff but wrinkle-less young man is getting a bit pathetic.
The disarming honesty and grace that Rajinikanth displays in real life, shunning wigs and wearing a simple vesti, forever humble and yet so bloody cool, is strangely not visible on screen. Especially not in roles devoted to present him as a pickle of his old self. A bit of his real-life spunk on screen would be magical, I say. But, again, letting go isn’t easy.
Like most nonsense that’s peddled under the tag of sci-fi, 2.0 doesn’t have a story but a plot that’s basically a lot of gibberish and mumbo jumbo with random scientific words thrown in to make it sound as if they are all talking sense, when really it’s a load of rubbish.
2.0 opens with a man walking to a phone tower and hanging himself to death as birds swirl round him in an agitated state.
Soon, in Chennai, mobile phones, and not the sweet landline instruments gathering dust, go rouge.
They suddenly just up, hover a bit in the air and then take off for an unknown destination, much like the chidiya which appears on the screen before the mobile phone departs.
This happens while people are talking, taking selfies, coochie cooing. And it happens to VIPs and their diamond-studded phones, and aam janta’s old, sad handsets. It’s all very distressing and irritating, till it also becomes scary.
All those disappeared phones soon start to return, at night, to do nasty, violent things to certain men who have been profiteering from the sales and calls of mobile phones.
What is happening? Who is doing this? Why are they doing it?
The government is worried but clueless. As are the scientists called to shed light on this most bizarre occurrence.
But the SIMs can’t be traced. The phones are off. Yet the dancing swarms of cell phones — which the movie loves very much and shows repeatedly — keeps returning as instruments of terror and murder. At times it’s a stunning bird, at times a man.
To crack the mystery of death by departed cell phones, the great scientist Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is summoned.
Dr V, who is usually found in his strangely dystopian white-and-grey office working on virtual screens with just one colleague — robot Nila (Amy Jackson) — takes charge of the investigation.
Research by Nila throws up one suicide at a mobile tower and a field trip brings Dr V face-to-face with a very large, very angry bird, but also a special space the bird can’t enter. Soon a phone call follows to understand what sort of messages India has been sending to aliens and Dr V has it all figured out.
A harebrained explanation is offered to us through some more gibberish around virtual screens with words like “troposphere”, “the 5th force”, the “aura people emit” thrown in.
The sci-fi idiocy is at its peak now and humans like me, who the film tells me are made up of neutrons and protons and emit electro-magnetic radiation, are kind of short-circuiting out of boredom and an overload of nonsense.
But the film is not even at the interval point, and neither the villain nor Chitti the original and the 2.0 upgraded version have arrived yet… Neither have we witnessed Nila’s oh-la-la moments every time she enters the very charged electro-magnetic field of Chitti…
Director S. Shankar, who claims responsibility for having written this gibberish, also announces at the onset that his film’s plot is based on some newspaper reports that stuck in his head.
There’s a lot of heartfelt gyaan in 2.0 about how happy, chirping birds are dropping dead because of radiation from mobile towers, and this forms the backstory of Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar) — his first avatar as a sad, depressive activist, and then, post-passing, as a raging evil power charged by cell phones and the “aura of a gazillion birds”.
It’s all very touching, especially when it’s delivered around little mounds of earth with sad white daisies resting on them. And though there’s little scientific proof, it sounds believable because, well, we are now a nation in active pursuit of the Brahmastra.
So obviously, evil gets outdone by the collective might of a good scientist, his two robots and three large aluminium kadhais (frying pans) emitting lovey-dovey messages.
But then the potbellied son of a scientist who was killed in Enthiran puts a spanner in Dr V’s work.
Chitti dies and Dr V is possessed. But quick-thinking Nila creates 2.0 to take on the killer bird.
This battle is long-drawn and feels exhaustingly unending, but it is also, in parts, quite stunning.
The shape-shifting robot and cell phone creature create moments that in a more tightly edited film would have been mind-blowing.
But 2.0 goes on and on, with the battle at one point looking like a game of rock-paper-scissors between two computer-generated things.
Thankfully 3.0 or, Kutti, glides in and puts an end to it all.
I’ll be pakki kutti with Rajini Sir if he ever returns with 4.0.
I have never understood why people take sci-fi so seriously. One reason, of course, is that I’m an English literature student and my brain cells begin to slip into coma at the mention of anything sciency.
But the other is that whatever I try to understand it in all seriousness, it sounds a lot like the drug-induced idiotic hallucinations of boys.
The trick with sci-fi is to keep it simple, minimal and amp-up the human drama, emotions.
Most of 2.0, I imagine, has been created on computer screens by boys with thick glasses and dark circles as they wolfed down chips and pizzas with fizzy drinks.
Nonetheless, the big bad bird is beautifully visualised and stunningly executed. And Akshay Kumar is excellent as the angry killer bird.
But his character is also a bit confusing. He has whatever power and whatever shape he wants at whatever point. At one point he is made of cell phones and is a bird that sometimes turns into a man.
Then he inhabits another, and it’s all very complicated and needless.
The face-off scenes are few, but dramatic. Apart from that there’s little drama in 2.0, but a lot of clumsy scenes and listlessness.
The only historical purpose 2.0 will serve is that at some point a thesis will be written on Dr Vaseegaran who didn’t just design a male robot that looked just like him but was evil, more powerful and horny. But also modelled a female robot whose pornographic proportions rival that of Barbie. I hope I live to read it. That’ll give some meaning to this meaningless ordeal.