He made a cute little speech about this pairing, recounting his neighbour asking Rajini how his retired life was going. On hearing that he’s working on a film called Robot where Aishwarya Rai was the heroine, the neighbour questioned, ‘Aur hero kaun?’ (And who’s the hero?).
It’s charming to witness the megastar indulge in self-deprecating humour. Because his fans, who start whistling and clapping as soon as his name appears on the credits, are unlikely to appreciate it from anyone else.
In Robot, you have two Rajinis. He plays scientist Vaseegaran who’s researching and building a complex robotic machine for a decade. The robot Chitti (also Rajini) is Spiderman, master-chef, and ace-choreographer all rolled into one. (You’re often thinking back to Robin William’s Bicentennial Man, though both films are starkly different.)
Vaseegaran dreams of making such robots for the Indian army, but his senior (Danny Denzongpa) is envious of his progress. He plays the central villain but there are plenty of other baddies around to keep both the Rajinis busy.
Inevitably, both scientist and machine are constantly saving Sana (Aishwarya Rai) from rape attempts including one by a robot dragging her and saying ‘come baby come’.
The love interest, for example, conveniently beautiful, air-headed, and in constant need of rescue, can’t even sit for an exam without his help. She also exclaims “cheee” every time the word sex is mentioned in any context.
This is a Rajinikanth movie, so you already know that expecting logic and explanations would make no sense. It’s nice to have that sorted before you get into the theatre, otherwise you’d be mighty disconcerted.
The situations are super-outrageous, each more audacious than the next. There’s one where Chitti has a conversation with a mosquito. Another where he delivers a baby. An objectionable and highly regressive scene is where Chitti saves a girl from a burning building, only to find she commits suicide because she wasn’t clothed when rescued.
There is ample bloody violence with smashed heads and people falling dead in heaps. The humour is loud in keeping with the tone of the movie.
It has that odd kind of humour like this conversation, for example. Someone asks Chitti the robot, ‘Akal nahin hai?’. He replies, ‘Akal nahin, nickel hai’ referring to his metal structure. Dialogue in Hindi is ridden with archaic words like ragd, pareeksha and asur. Songs are broken into without context. The songs are picturised like most romantic songs in films are: the heroine sports a hundred glam avatars while the hero walks in slow-mo.
The film comes alive in the second half and is unstoppable in the finale. You see a visual extravaganza that’s truly the highlight of the film. Rajini fans can see several versions of their star, digitally created, and morphing into a mean killing machine.
Indeed, it is this special effects blitzkrieg that’s the cream of the film; the lavish climax where you see Rajini change forms faster than you can say robot (to reveal anything more would be unfair).
Rajinikanth - the script, story and spine of the film - is in form, jumping off buildings, romancing Rai, and belting out straight-faced one-liners. Rai, looking ethereal, plays the archetypal heroine with spunk and is a delight to watch.
Director Shankar (Jeans, Sivaji) keeps intact the superstar’s brand of exaggerated heroism while giving a visually blinding spectacle. This is one film where the crew line-up is as impressive as the casting coup.
It’s a mighty solid list whether it’s Woo-Ping Yuen (Matrix, Kill Bill) in charge of stunts, Stan Winston Studios taking care of the animatronics in the film, Industrial Light & Magic working on the special effects or A R Rahman at the helm of music.
Yes, this is that brand of cinema where subtle is a bad word. In fact, you’d be accused of being conceited for demanding such refinements from a Rajinikanth film.
So go on, sink your teeth into what is said to be Asia’s most expensive movie by far, but also one where Rajinikanth leaps off a moving train to retrieve the heroine’s purse.
Rating: 3 stars