If you've never sat in a theatre in Tamil Nadu and watched a Rajinikanth movie, with the crowd going ballistic as the letters SUPERSTAR appear onscreen to the signature soundtrack, chances are that you will reject Kochadaiiyaan outright. There is much that doesn't work in the film. The movement of characters onscreen is jerky, their eyes have no expression in most scenes, and the story, which has potential, is hampered by too many songs that interrupt the narrative rather tediously. The lip sync also seems to be off in the Hindi version in parts.
But if, on the other hand, you have grown up watching Thalaivar's movies and are a fan, you will understand that this is very much a Rajinikanth film. All the classic elements are there: the righteous hero of mysterious parentage, a dutiful sister who is wronged, betrayals and backstabbing, a devout ladylove, friendships with twists, intriguing flashbacks, and above all, dharma. Not to mention the style quotient and pithy punch dialogues.
Kochadaiiyaan is set in the times of warring kingdoms. Kottaipatinam and Kalingpuri are ruled by two rival kings, neither of whom is truly virtuous. The story begins with a young boy riding out into the sea on a boat, only to be tossed by the waves and arriving in the kingdom of Kalingpuri.
The boy grows up to be Rana (Rajinikanth), a fine warrior. Rana is a favourite with the royal family and yet, he chooses to betray them when the opportunity comes. But just as you are winding your head around why he does this, wham, Rana does it again, and this time, it's the ruler of Kottaipatinam who is at the end of his sword. Who really is Rana and what are his motives? The answers come in bits and pieces, very much like a jigsaw puzzle that remains incomplete until the very end.
However, the story is weighed down by too many dance numbers that, apart from being distracting, look quite tacky. Princess Vadhana's (Deepika Padukone) coping mechanism for any event of significance in her life seems to be to burst into song and dance frantically. This isn't a comment on Padukone's dance skills but the technology that captures it – in many a place, the moves simply end up looking hilarious. It reminds one of ancient Charlie Chaplin movies and it's a sobering thought when one realizes that Chaplin was going in for a comic effect, after all, and that the stiff, marionette-like movements we saw then were because of technological limitations, not technological advancement as a film like Kochadaiiyaan boasts of.
Nasser's character looks exactly the same across several decades, not a wrinkle lining his face. One wonders which age-defying cream His Majesty was using! The scenes that portray action from a distance work well but the close-up shots are disastrous, the dead eyes giving one the impression of watching a zombie movie.
It would be a pointless and unfair exercise to compare the motion capture and 3D animation technology used in Kochadaiiyaan to films like Avatar, given that their budgets are nowhere near each other. However, it might be a fair question to ask why do it at all if it can't be done well? Kochadaiiyaan is an experiment in many ways, not in the least because it's a new way for Rajinikanth to entertain his ever-hungry fans. Has Soundarya pulled it off? Not quite. But it's still worth a watch if you'd like to see the Superstar immortalized in a way like he's never been before.