Friday, November 30, 2018

REVIEW 657: 2.0

Release date:
November 29, 2018

Rajinikanth, Akshay Kumar, Amy Jackson, Adil Hussain, Kalabhavan Shajohn, Sudhanshu Pandey, Kaizad Kotwal

Note: This is a review of the Hindi dubbed version of the Tamil film 2.0

There was a time when the cheep-cheep of sparrows and other birds would wake us up every morning even in the urban concrete jungles of India. Over time, as humans have persisted in playing havoc with the environment, those soothing sounds have gradually died out of our lives. This travesty of natural justice is, justifiably, a cause of frustration and rage among environmentalists and even laypersons with basic common sense and self-preservation instincts. Now imagine a film writer who understands the logic behind their anger, yet takes the bizarre decision to turn one such green activist into a murderous supervillain determined to destroy humankind for its callous carelessness.

Writer-director Shankar does precisely that in his new film 2.0, sequel to the 2010 blockbuster Enthiran (Robot) which starred Kollywood giant Rajinikanth as the well-meaning and brilliant Dr Vasigaran who built the robot Chitti (Rajini again) for the benefit of humankind. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan played his girlfriend Sana, and Danny Denzongpa was cast as Dr Bohra, who saw technology merely as a means to fulfill his dreams of great wealth. Despite the abundance of Tamil commercial cinema clichés, Enthiran had a fun comicbook quality, a substantial story and absolute clarity about its politics: it was a film on the transmutability of good and evil, and the risks posed by technology in the hands of immoral individuals.

2.0 is mixed up to the point of being downright stupid. As an unexplained force in the film snatches cellphones away from millions of residents of Chennai, the government turns to the scientist community for help. Allow me to revive Chitti, says Dr Vasigaran. But the Home Minister reminds him of the court ruling to dismantle the robot after it had caused death and untold destruction once Dr Bohra tampered with it for his own selfish ends.

When people start dying at the hands of a mysterious being though, there is no choice but to get Chitti back. So far, what we have is a reminder that it is not technology we must fear but humans who misuse it. Point taken.

The ridiculousness of 2.0’s politics surfaces only in the second half. A line uttered early on by Dr Vasigaran, “When people cannot understand something they either dismiss it as a terrorist attack or the work of God,” has potential but goes nowhere. Instead, the film becomes not about machines going out of control (which was a focal theme of Enthiran) but about the need to keep righteous human anger in check.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar – making his Kollywood debut here – plays the respected ornithologist, Dr Pakshirajan, who gets tired of trying to convince the government, corporates and ordinary citizens to save our birds by cutting down on cellphone use. (Spoiler Alert) Following a series of events, he metamorphoses into a gorgeously ugly, giant supervillain whose aura combines with the aura of scores of dead birds and takes on a physical form constructed by using stolen cellphones as his building blocks. (Spoiler alert ends)

By this stage, Shankar comes across as being increasingly confused about what he wants to say through this film. Sadly, his confusion at the scripting stage plays into the hands of political establishments that, in the real world, are indeed demonising activists, including environmentalists. This is inexcusable.

Though he struggles with his storyline, Shankar does show imagination in the conceptualisation of 2.0’s visual effects and action sequences. Clearly, no expense has been spared in creating them. That said, the glitz and grandeur become boring after a while in the pre-interval portion as the story takes forever to take off and the SFX are beset by repetitiveness, as though a teenaged boy is trying to impress his school buddies with his brilliance. Cellphones being snatched out of the hands of crowds, a magnificent river of glittering cellphones flooding the ground – the sight is awe-inspiring the first time, even the second time, but when the same trick is used again and again, and then again... Oh c’mon, why didn’t someone snatch the toy out of the boy’s hands?

The special effects and stunts pick up only in the final confrontation between Chitti and Dr Pakshirajan, but it is too late by then. Besides, there is no single person in the storyline in whom one can be emotionally invested. Dr Vasigaran operates in the background throughout, Chitti takes centre stage but has more swagger than soul, and it is impossible to dislike Dr Pakshirajan because his cause is actually one worth defending.

Besides, Rajinikanth’s performance is a mixed bag. Even the spotlight on Chitti in 2.0 is driven more by SFX than acting, and the manner in which the star is tapped is decidedly unsatisfying. 2.0 gives him neither the unrelenting bombast of the standard big-bucks Rajini-starrer, nor the understatement he is still capable of as we saw so recently in Pa. Ranjith’s well-conceived, thought-provoking Kaala.

There are only two worthwhile, albeit small, roles among the supporting cast. Adil Hussain lends some dignity to the Minister he plays, and Kalabhavan Shajohn provides brief comic respite from the otherwise slow-moving proceedings as the corrupt, cold-hearted Minister Vairamoorthy.

2.0 is a prime example of the dispensability of women in Indian commercial film sequels. Sana is reduced to a voice on the phone here, Shankar does not even use Rai Bachchan’s voice for her, and the woman is still nagging her boyfriend every single time she calls him while he goes about the important business of saving the world. Since leading women in Rajinikanth films these days are anyway rarely anything but glamorous distractions, she has been replaced here by the lesser known Amy Jackson who plays a dull, impossibly curvy, Barbie-like robot assistant to Dr Vasigaran called Nila. As if she is not clichéd enough, she – the sole woman of any significance here – represents emotion and heart in the plot, while the men represent reason and scientific thought.

Though it is nice to see that a Bollywood hit machine like Akshay Kumar wants to expand his horizons and work in another Indian film industry, it is hard to understand why he chose this lukewarm role in a tepid film that gives him such limited screen time – we get to see him properly only after the interval. Kumar tackles Dr Pakshirajan with conviction, but in the end, the tons of heavy prosthetic make-up and costumes (if they can be called that) overshadow his personality, star persona and acting. 

There is only one department in which Shankar’s thoughts seem to be crystal clear: the bow to Rajinikanth’s primacy in the constellation of male Indian commercial movie stars. As if as an inside joke, a song playing in the background during the closing battle between Chitti and Pakshirajan uses the words “anaadi khiladi” which, while it literally translates into “foolish player” with reference to the bad guy, is also a reminder of the buzzword long associated with Akshay Kumar’s stardom since it has appeared in so many of his film titles. It recurs in the closing song that contains this line: “Anaadi, khiladi, narak mein teri jagah hai khaali (Hey you fool, you player, there is a place waiting for you in hell).” Umm, is this just a coincidence, or was the lyric writer being intentionally subversive?

Be that as it may, after this song comes an epilogue featuring Dr Vasigaran and Chhota Chitti a.k.a. 3.0, which amounts to an announcement of yet another sequel. Considering how steel cold and yawn-worthy 2.0 is despite its top-notch special effects, the thought of more Chittis is hardly worth celebrating.

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
146 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Monday, November 26, 2018


Release date:
Kerala: November 16, 2018
Delhi: November 23, 2018
M. Padmakumar

Joju George, Athmiya, Madhuri Braganza, Dileesh Pothan, Sudhi Koppa, Irshad, Malavika Menon

Those empty eyes – the elderly man’s heartbreak is evident in their absolute blankness, beyond which lies a grief that blankets his entire being. They are eyes that once twinkled, back when he was young.

Both avatars of the titular hero of Joseph: Man With The Scar are played by actor Joju George. Joseph is a retired policeman whose Sherlock Holmes-like genius causes the force to still turn to him for assistance in difficult cases. We are introduced to him in a long prologue during which he methodically and quickly solves a double murder. That initial passage is enough to capture the essence of the man: brilliant, world weary, lonely and alone. 

Through a series of well-placed flashbacks, expertly slipped into the narrative by editor Kiran Das, we later learn that Joseph’s empty nest was once home to a happy wife and daughter. This is a man who has known what it is to have loved and lost, loved again and lost again. A tragic turn of events in the present day compels him to summon up every ounce of the powers of observation and deduction he is known for. (For the record, he is genuinely impressive, unlike the lead cop in that silly, pretentious Mohanlal-starrer Villain last year.) This is a thriller revolving around a police investigation, but it is not a police procedural.

M. Padmakumar’s film is high on atmospherics. The director is aided in conjuring up an air of mystery by Manesh Madhavan’s cinematography, which revels as much in tight close-ups of the lead players as in inventive shots of the magnificent Kerala landscape. Madhavan is at his best in large open spaces, where he manages to create the impression that his camera is a living entity not in the frame, stalking Joseph and his associates, watching them from a distance as they go about their business.  

Occasionally, only occasionally, the camera dwells too long on the protagonist’s sorrowful, ageing face, making it seem like Joju George is overdoing his effort to be enigmatic, and thus reminding us that a great screen performance is not just the result of a gifted actor’s work but the combined effort of a talented artiste, a decisive director, a cameraperson who knows exactly when to turn away, and an editor who knows precisely how many seconds to retain and how many to scissor out, which shots to include and which to discard. George is particularly poorly served in that scene in which Joseph is watching his wife dress up, and appears marginally leery rather than admiring. Had the actor not given any better takes? These moments, fleeting though they are, end up slightly detracting from what is otherwise an astonishingly immersive performance, made all the more striking by the glaring difference between the playful young Joseph and his older, care-worn version, in addition to the stark change from George’s filmography so far ruled by supporting and comic parts (most recently, Udaharanam Sujatha, Poomaram and Njan Marykkutty).

Though George dominates the film, the flawless supporting cast gives it its finesse. Especially interesting is the chemistry between the leading man and Peter played by Dileesh Pothan, although theirs is an awkward relationship. One of the best conceptualised scenes in Joseph features them at a funeral where Peter is considerate towards Joseph though he need not have bothered.

Peter gets only a fraction of the screen time given to Joseph, but that time has been well used by writer Shahi Kabir. The same justice is not done to the women though. Athmiya, Madhuri Braganza and Malavika Menon have spark, and the characters they play – Stella, Anna and Diana – have potential, but they merely provide the motivations for Joseph’s actions, not one of the three is a fully expanded character in her own right.

Still, the little insights that the screenplay provides into life in this Malayali community, the focus on the psychological impact of brutal crimes on police investigators, the central character’s investigative skills, Joju George’s acting and impeccable, transformative ageing makeup, the sweetness of the understanding between two individuals in love with the same person, and the unrelenting sense of suspense that lasts till the denouement make Joseph: Man With The Scar thoroughly worthwhile. It could of course have done without the number of songs packed into the narrative that slacken the pace for no apparent purpose, the melodramatically mournful tone of some of the singing, the slow motion and other shots that linger longer than necessary. For instance, at a funeral, when a character scans the gathering to find Joseph, did his head have to gradually emerge from behind a shoulder hiding him? Most crucially, the final big reveal relies too much on the far-fetched, over-stretched coincidence of one man being personally affected twice by the same crime, but the lead up to the climax is captivating enough to make this film a rewarding experience.

Rating (out of five stars): **3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
138 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost: