May 23, 2014
Soundarya Rajinikanth Ashwin
Rajinikanth, Deepika Padukone, Nasser, Jackie Shroff, R. Sarathkumar, Shobhana
Released in multiple languages including Tamil, Telugu, Hindi. This is a review of the Hindi version.
Kochadaiiyaan is lazy. You can’t assume that a film will be effective merely because it crosses a new frontier in technology and stars an acting legend. That, unfortunately, is what debutant director Soundarya Rajinikanth Ashwin has done in her wannabe epic featuring a 3D animated version of her superstar father.
The film’s problems begin with its weak, unimaginative writing by K.S. Ravikumar. His story is narrated to such confusing effect, that I need to pause a moment before recounting it here... Kochadaiiyaan is about Rana Rannvijay (Rajinikanth), the young army chief of the kingdom of Kottaipatinam, who avenges the killing of his father Kochadaiiyaan (also Rajini) at the hands of the king (Nasser). There is a back story about how Kochadaiiyaan had been compelled to leave his troops in the care of the rival King Mahendra (Jackie Shroff) of Kalingpuri; and an opening half about how Rana grew up and freed those enslaved soldiers by duping Mahendra. This rather unexciting tale could have been told in a linear fashion, but instead goes back and forth in time, possibly to build up an artificial air of mystery, complexity and depth.
Somewhere in between is a romance between Rana and Kottaipatinam’s Princess Vadhana (Deepika Padukone) on the one hand, while the prince and Rana’s sister too are in love with each other. Rana also has a brother (Rajini again). Frankly, the whole thing feels like an insipid potpourri drawn from many sources with not a single engaging character to its credit.
Much of this could have been forgiven if the performance capture had been top notch. Sadly, it’s not. As you know, performance capture is used to replicate the movements of live actors to create animated characters. James Cameron resorted to this technology to generate the Na’vi people of planet Pandora in his pathbreaking 2009 film Avatar. Steven Spielberg used it in 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn to bring alive the young Belgian detective, Captain Haddock, Thomson, Thompson and others exactly as they’d been visualised by the artist Herge in his comics series. Here in India, the first reported use of performance capture in a full-length feature was in the 2012 Tamil action thriller Maattran which required the technology to, in a sense, clone Suriya since he was playing conjoined twins. Kochadaiiyaan is the first Indian film to be entirely in 3D performance capture. Like Tintin, it’s fully animated.
The films I listed above all had specific reasons for turning to this technology. For instance, it would have been impossible to find live actors who look precisely like Herge’s drawings of the characters in his iconic comic books. Likewise, the Na’vi were figments of human imagination. Nothing in the story of Kochadaiiyaan particularly cries out for the use of performance capture though – unless you count the need to make Rajinikanth look decades younger than his real age, but then isn’t that something Rajini works towards in every one of his films these days? So why use performance capture when live actors would do just as well?
If the replication had been successful and visually enriching, it could have been argued that this still-evolving technology was used simply to push the envelope. That argument doesn’t hold since most of the characters in Kochadaiiyaan appear stiff, strained and far less attractive than their live avatars. The dialogue delivery is okay but the lip synching to songs is terrible.
This is not to say that Hollywood’s use of performance capture has been a smooth ride. The Adventures of Tintin, for instance, was a spectacular eye-full and Captain Haddock looked delightfully real but Tintin himself was rather flat. Soundarya’s film has hardly any redeeming factors though. Kochadaiiyaan himself does a nice taandav at one point and Rajini’s characters do mirror the actor’s trademark swagger to amusing effect, but all three are slow on their feet and left me longing for the real Superstar who can flip sunglasses and cigarettes, walk on walls and ceilings, and race atop trains. When Vadhana dances at one point, she looks so awkward that I found myself longing for the natural grace of the real live Deepika Padukone. So why use performance capture when live actors would have served the purpose better?
Shobhana as the late Kochadaiiyaan’s wife and Jackie Shroff as King Mahendra are the only bright spots in this rather dreary picture. In fact, when Shobhana dances in the film (the camera angles are most flattering in this scene), I felt a different kind of longing; a longing to see her more often in substantial roles, of the kind that are rarely offered to gorgeous 40-plus women in Indian cinema.
On the other hand, when in one brief scene Vadhana is shown kissing Rana, I was glad that this was an animated film using the likenesses of Deepika and Rajinikanth. Imagine a live action film featuring a real smooch between the 28-year-old actress and her 63-year-old co-star! Erm…
This is a review of the Hindi Kochadaiiyaan with an introductory narration by Amitabh Bachchan. If the Tamil version – also released here in Delhi – had subtitles, I’d have preferred to watch that because even the worst Rajini film is worth watching in a hall filled with crazed Rajini fans cheering, repeating dialogues and serving up more entertainment than what’s on screen. No such luck with Hindi film buffs who’re not that into Rajini – two rows of them in an otherwise empty hall watched in cold silence with me. Kochadaiiyaan is a dull film. The direction is lackadaisical, the editing shoddy and abrupt in places. Even the usually reliable A.R. Rahman’s music is uninspiring. Besides, when the real Rajini is available, why on earth should I settle for three stodgy animated duplicates?
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: Everymedia PR