There is something unique about science fiction stories. They have the capacity of creating a fictional world and ensuring that a viewer becomes an "invested citizen" of that world. Be it "Star Trek", "2001- A Space Odyssey", the comic book superhero ecosystem or be it "E.T.", "Stranger Things" , they all build a world which does not exist and create an unparalleled immersive viewership. The problem of course is these worlds built from imagination run the risk of being ‘too dreamy’ and hence writers create a 'fictional conflict' to enhance the storyline. "2.0" directed by Shankar starring superstar Rajinikanth tries an alternative approach of creating a realism based sci-fi story.
This post is a review of the film "2.0", its vision, themes explored and the imagination quotient of the filmmakers.
The Premise of 2.0
2.0 which is the sequel to the 2010 blockbuster "Endhiran" (Robot in Tamil language) also starring Rajinikanth and directed by Shankar was the first Indian feature to create an authentic sci fi film which doesn’t copy outright from its Hollywood peers. Shankar successfully created tongue in cheek humour and coupled that with Bollywoodian emotions while hiring top rate Hollywood special effects teams to create his own brand of unique action sequences and capitalised on Rajinikanth's superstar status amongst audiences. "Endhiran"revolves around the adventures of Dr Vaseegran and his robotics company. Vaseegaran creates "two alter ego robots" named Chitti. One is the smooth talking simpleton who takes orders but the other one who has a "red bionic chip" is naughty and a trouble creator. The Dark Chitti is the darling of the crowds as he has wit, imagination and an itch to be more ambitious. He develops his love for Dr Vaseegaran's girlfriend and questions his creator's authority. After a fight to the finish, Chitti loses and gets neutralised. His red bionic chip also is stored away.
2.0 talks about the story after these incidents…..
The Shankar style of storytelling
Director S.Shankar has established his name as one of India's top rate filmmakers who operates in monster budgets and yet creates unique Indian experiences for the viewers. What sets Shankar apart from others in the big budget director peers is that like James Cameron he designs, orchestrates and conceptualises the action sequences/special effects in all his films. He builds a spectacle out of each sequence if the script needs it. In “Jeans” (1998) which was made as a traditional masala film, Shankar took the crew to shoot sequences across the seven wonders of the world including Giza Pyramid, Macchu Pichhu and cemented his signature style of lavish storytelling. That film was produced by Hollywood biggies such as Ashok Amritraj and Michael Solomon.
The gist of Shankar’s strategy is that every frame of the film needs to amplify the story. He has been criticised heavily for spending millions of dollars on simple stories. But that all changed after he had his first outing with Rajinikanth in “Sivaji” which scored a big budget of Rs 50 crore way back in 2007. Shankar then introduced Rajini as a software architect who fights the system in his way using technology. This was coupled with breath taking sequences at the Guggenheim Museum in Spain. This now has become a trademark of Shankar. ‘Sivaji’ grossed more than Rs 140 crores at the box office and the loyal Rajini fans were left hungry for more.
There is also the fact that Shankar wants to Indianize everything in the film as he visualizes it. ‘In 2.0’ and ‘Endhiran’, he uses slums and backdrops of cities like Chennai as the main conflict venue. Small time folks on the roads witness superheroes running and flying around them. In ‘Endhiran’, Chitti performs a Kathak recital for his creator.
S.Shankar is deeply patriotic in his tone and thinks like an average Indian while making his grandiose vision. To amplify that he uses the best technicians in the world to create a larger than life spectacle. Add to that the monster star power of Rajinikanth and bingo! You have a formula to crack big numbers.
He will have an uphill task with ‘2.0’ as it has to recoup its gargantuan budget of INR 543 Crores ($75 Million) which makes it the costliest film of all times from India. This is a story of mad belief in the star power of Rajinikanth which seems reasonable to many.
2.0: The Plot !
2.0 starts in 2018 and takes note of various climatic events happening around the world. For some reason cell phones are vanishing from all over India. Some unknown force seems to be behind this. Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is called to the rescue and he re creates Chitti to investigate these events. They are able to locate that to the energy of the soul of Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar), a former birds crusader/scientist who believes cell phones are destroying the bird population. To end this menace, Pakshi Rajan re incarnates into an evil force resembling a giant bird… Vaseegaran and Chitti then take on the challenge to defeat Rajan. In this journey, Amy Jackson plays a female android called Neela who assists Vaseegaran.
Can Science Fiction and its optics appeal to mass Indian audience?
This is one question I feel is important here. To a nation which is fed melodrama and music every minute, it might be difficult to create a Steven Spielberg/Ridley Scott/ James Cameron type film. But what Shankar does is that he places all his characters and their actions on the streets and slums of India. His special effects are more ‘familiar’ to the local audience and it is coupled with humour. Legacy Effects (“Agents of Shield”, “Iron Man”, “Real Steel”) from Hollywood has created most of the special effects in the film and Akshay Kumar’s Pakshi Rajan costume is nothing less than anything from “The Avengers” universe. There is also the threat of cell phone usage in India to mankind which to my mind connects with every Indian today. Its these images, visions and dream sequences which appeal to the “Masala” audience. In addition there is also “The Rajinikanth factor”…….
2.0 and the aura of superstar Rajinikanth
To call Rajinikanth India’s biggest star is an understatement. To be fair, all the Khans, Bachchan family, etc are not even half of that stardom Rajini enjoys amongst his fans. At the age of 68, he appears like a college brat as Chitti. With Hollywoodian prosthetics and make-up, he literally doesn’t age. Audience will see Rajini in 4 roles in 2.0 including Vaseegaran, Chitti (Pro), Chitti (Anti) and Microbot Chitti.
From an analytical perspective, its safe to say that Rajinikanth commands more than 60% of the total budget’s target spend. Shankar uses Rajini’s stardom inch by inch and invests mega millions to create a character which is age defying, daring and lovable for his fans! No other Indian star has the capacity or the capability to attract these budgets and optics. Rajini is the nucleus of “2.0” and its $75 Million gamble. No confusion on that.
“2.0” is a film made for the love of the average cinema goer. Its low on logic but rides on the mega superstardom of Rajinikanth. Its unique visuals and action sequences will amaze Indian audiences like never before. Although “2.0” is still a distance away from the league of “Black Panther”, “Justice League” level of storytelling, yet it is definitely the very best of superhero content ever offered by Indian cinema. This is a full VFM film for the whole family!
- Rahul Gupta, Film Critic.