For the first time perhaps, Rajinikanth is not the only reason to watch a Rajinikanth movie. At the end of Robot (Endhiran in Tamil and Telugu), director S. Shankar emerges the real star. The acrobatics and gimmicks are all here—with superb production value and the kind of technology that have gone into making it, they look insanely cool.
The biggest achievement of Robot is in imaginatively using technology—the hallmark of all great sci-fi films. The Rs162 crore budget, which makes it the most expensive Indian film ever made, is entirely justified. And Shankar, who has also written the story and screenplay, knows who his audience is—in this case, everyone. The visual sweep, scale and depth of Robot are astounding.
Rajinikanth, or “superstar Rajini” as the credit goes, plays two roles—a scientist who has been working on inventing a robot meant to help military forces in combat and the robot, Chitti, who is capable of superhuman feats. He can master nuances of obstetrics in seconds, swerve a helicopter with his hands, have conversations with a swarm of resentful, psychedelic mosquitoes who want to exterminate humans by infecting them with dengue and malaria, and kill by pressing human heads between his palms—and falls in love with his creator’s fiancée, a medical student (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). A rival scientist, played by Danny Denzongpa, misuses Chitti for money and creates the evil avatar of Chitti, menacing and more entertaining than the adorable work-toy. What ensues is absurd, sci-fi theatrics that are as hilarious as they are mind-boggling.
Rajinikanth, in his 60s, is a superstar to reckon with. His agility and the joy he exudes immersing himself in his trademark gimmicks are, to say the least, entertaining. This is his career’s most ambitious, and perhaps even difficult, role because he has to justify the technology used to make the film. Throughout the movie, he’s having immense fun. The punch of his dialogues doesn’t drown in the film’s technological brilliance, so diehard fans of the star won’t be disappointed.
Bachchan looks the part, although her costumes, designed by Manish Malhotra, are clearly hideous. She has an ornamental role in the film, as is the case with women in all Rajinikanth movies. She is the helpless woman Chitti has to save, desire and ultimately win. Bachchan does justice to the film’s brilliant choreography by Prabhu Deva, Raju Sundaram and Raghava Lawrence, and the music by A.R. Rahman. The music is not consistently good, but a couple of tracks stand out. The locales (including one in Machu Picchu) are grand, and the sets, dazzling—but everything in Robot rests on an aesthetic idiom; the excess serves a purpose.
The influence of action and sci-fi films from Hollywood is obvious. Shankar, for the first time in India, has truly matched that exacting standard, but with a sensibility that is entirely his—and Indian.
Siddharth Anand’s Anjaana Anjaaniis a romance that begins with a time-tested, overused premise—two traumatized strangers meet in unusual circumstances and fall in love. One wishes things were as simple. Anand takes an unnecessarily stretched and tedious route to establishing that the two people in question—Kiara (Priyanka Chopra), a heartbroken New York City woman who apparently does nothing for a living, and Aakash (Ranbir Kapoor), whose company goes bankrupt in the financial meltdown—are made for each other.
They meet as they are about to jump from a bridge—she, with an almost-empty vodka bottle, and he, with a smug and cynical expression on his face. Despite repeated attempts to commit suicide, they fail. Destiny, a refrain in Bollywood romances, intervenes. They take a road trip to Las Vegas where they almost have sex. Aakash has already confessed to Kiara that he is a virgin because he hasn’t found the right woman to “do it with”.
Songs burst on to the screen after almost every hour, some of them filmed beautifully by cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran, a master of artificial light and candyfloss cool. Chopra and Kapoor make a good on-screen pair, although the full potential of the actors is not used. In most scenes, Chopra’s attempts to be the character seem sorely obvious. This is one of Kapoor’s less impressive performances.
This is a film of a few memorable moments. Overall, the script doesn’t hold up and no amount of external finesse can redeem it.
By the end, I was so tired of the woman’s tears over her former lover, whom she once wanted to kill herself for, and Aakash’s good-heartedness that whether they kissed in the end did not matter. Love is a big bore in Anjaana Anjaani.
Robot (Endhiran), and Anjaana Anjaani released in theatres on Friday.