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Mayank Shekhar's Review: Robot

This is India's most expensive blockbuster. Each crore spent over every minute of this movie shows, if you watch it for the spectacle alone. Read the full review. Full coverage
By Mayank Shekhar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 04, 2010 07:32 PM IST

What's it that Rajni can't...

Robot

Director: Shankar
Actors: Superstar Rajnikanth, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan
Rating: ***

At the start of this film, after the presenter's name (Sun TV's Kalanidhi Maran), and before the film's title (Robot; Endhiran in Tamil), the screen screams out letters in a font twice the size of both.

The silver alphabets spell out 'Superstar Rajnikanth', the hero's name. I was at a theatre sparsely populated, low-key, given a press show. I could hear crowds going berserk at that moment. Audiences in Tamil Nadu, I am told, would have lit up fire crackers indoors by now, thrown coins at the stage, cracked open coconuts, begun their biennial prayers like religious rituals inside the movie theatre. They're probably doing so, as we speak. Stuff like this makes films for films' sake redundant. And opinion of any kind, quite pointless.

Rajnikanth is the closest human approximation to god from an organised faith. Both are ageless in their airbrushed figures. Both demand believers, and complete devotion to unquestioned legends. You can't explain God. You can't explain Rajnikanth. Being critical of either can invite extreme public wrath. Blasphemy is best avoided. I tread on thin ice, you can tell! No sweat still.

This is India's most expensive blockbuster. Each crore spent over every minute of this movie shows, if you watch it for the spectacle alone. The sheer scale and special effect of this film remains hitherto unsurpassed in Indian cinema. The film smartly borrows from the genre's Hollywood tradition, right from Terminator to Transformers. Which is to say, there is yet an emotional connect.

While I haven't been on Rajnikanth's previous pilgrimages called Baba (2002) or Sivaji (2007) to figure their universal appeal, it's easy to judge, Robot takes Superstar (that being his first name) beyond the mythology of his home state. For one, Rajni Sir, in this movie, isn't a folk hero testing the bounds of human antics. He is himself an "andro-humanoid". There is external logic to the madness on the movie screen.

Most of India that calls a restaurant a hotel, calls robot, Robert. The pretentiously suave pronounce it with a silent 't' ('ro-bo'), and those on a diet of American films call it robot (as in 'ro-bought'). This one's called Chitti. He has a memory of "1 zeta-byte", speed of "1 terra-hertz" and combined creative intelligence of 100 humans. His inventor (Superstar, again) is a top scientist at an artificial intelligence lab in Chennai, who bears Carnegie Mellon and Stanford as legit stamps on his CV.

Chitti needs accreditation from the government to be recruited in the army as proxy for mortal soldiers. He can be of practical use to his country. There's one issue. The guarantors demand he be fed with human emotions to respond subjectively to instructions. You see the point. He could go wild otherwise.

But these feelings the robot is forced to learn causes problems of its own. Chitti falls for his creator's girl (Aishwarya). He becomes prone to human manipulations, especially the villain's (Danny Denzongpa), who eventually reassembles him into a callous weapon of mass destruction. Chitti goes bang bang. This is sweet premise for any sci-fi pic.

And yet there you go: there is Superstar Rajni as the hero (the loved robot), the villain (the bad robot), and the geek (the scientist lover). In that din of his devotees, one rarely credits this 61-year-old leading man for his acting prowess. This is super stuff by any performance standards.

Very soon as bad Chitti begins to mutate himself, design his own clones, there are so many Superstars on screen, you literally lose count. A planet full of humanoid Rajnikanths, on serious rampage, or as slate.com subtly describes him, "If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be" this!

Leave aside jokes running on the Internet. This film, just a few feet too long, is fine entertainment by itself. I'm evidently an atheist to this religion, so I guess, you can trust this note.

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