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:

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