Rajinikanth's 2.0 review: The most expensive movie made in India

A  Rajini film is akin to a celestial event — a rare sighting on screen of a star. One who is an enigma in real life and whose recent drift towards politics has lacked the sure-footed assurance of his box-office successes. How often the theatre echoes with whistles of approval is a reliable measure of how well a new release is received.

His latest, 2.0, does not offer many such moments, hindered as they are by a rigmarole of curious rationales in the plot as they set up a clash between an invincible robot and villainous bird composed of cellphones. The sequel to Enthiran (2010) brings together two of our most bankable stars, Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar, to create the most expensive movie made in India (~5 billion), as director S Shankar combines visual effects, prosthetics and makeup to tackle a socially relevant issue.

Shankar, who has often dealt with issues such as corruption, takes up an environmental cause through Pakshirajan (Kumar), an elderly ornithologist in the mould of Salim Ali. He protests and petitions against unregulated cellphone networks whose harmful radiations, he argues and the film suggests, have spelt doom for birds and in turn farmers. He hangs himself from a mobile tower in his village.

Cellphones fly off everyone’s hands and disappear into the skies like birds. The city’s best-known scientist, Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth), whose latest creation, the android assistant Nila (Amy Jackson) charms a visiting student at his lab and makes his girlfriend suspicious, is summoned by the home minister. His proposal to revive Chitti (Rajinikanth), which was 

dismantled at the end of Enthiran, is snubbed as the authorities fear the Frankenstein-like monstrosity.

Just as mysteriously as the phones vanish, a politician, wholesaler and transmission tower owner are killed without leaving a trace. How cellphones morph into a preying falcon or wall victims are arguably the most ingenious thrills in 2.0, whose 3D visuals pale in comparison to spectacular epics like the Baahubali series.

As death and destruction loom with army men stationed to fight the mobile menace also meeting a gory end, the home minister pleads with Vaseegaran to bring back Chitti. Along with Nila, the duo team up to uncover the mystery killer.

If man versus machine was the core theme of Enthiran, 2.0 is more machine versus machine. So, as a see-saw fight follows and the “aura” of Pakshirajan inhabits the body of Vaseegaran, resulting in the latter taking up a vigilante role, it also produces the scene where the actors in the stars shine. A lack of humour or even song and dance, which you’d expect given 

A R Rahman’s music and Nila’s infatuation with Chitti, means 2.0 isn’t your typical Shankar masala film.

The sci-fi genre lets directors creatively interpret scientific phenomena or bend rationality by introducing futuristic elements to dwell on social, political or philosophical concerns. The challenge is to make it all believable. In 2.0, some of the explanations and concepts — such as Pakshirajan essentially being a mass of negative energy or “aura” of one human and numerous birds, all dead — make you wonder if it stretches credibility a bit too much. It also expediently kills off Pakshirajan in a final duel, where the huge figure of a cellphone bird that shifts shape to appear human is matched in size by a thousand Chitti robots (just in case you began to wonder who the hero is!) rising as one whole robot.

There is only lip service from a recuperating Vaseegaran on what should be done for the birds. One last thought as the credits rolled. Is an automaton-like version of Rajini, who turns 68 this month, the sign of a new phase for him? That will be a far cry from the uber-masculine, cigarette-flicking, glowering hero who beats up the bad guy and saves the world, reliably, again and again.

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