If Robot the film was a person, it would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Parts of the film are superbly entertaining – the scale is spectacular, the story is ambitious and the special effects are impressive. But parts, especially in the second half, are so needlessly stretched and cacophonous, that you’re just waiting for it to end.
Still, I strongly recommend that you see Robot, to partake in writer-director Shankar’s prodigious imagination and to revel in the sheer force of nature that is Rajinikanth.
When you buy a ticket to a Rajinikanth film, you enter into a pact with the actor. The only rule in a Rajinikanth movie is that there are no rules. Rajinikanth, whose contract reportedly specifies that he be credited as superstar, reigns supreme.
In Robot, he plays a double role – Dr. Vasi, who creates an andro-humanoid robot named Chitti, also played by Rajinikanth. As pure machine, Chitti functions well enough but trouble starts when Dr. Vasi imbues human emotions into him.
Chitti falls in love with his creator’s girlfriend, Sana played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, creating a singularly unique love triangle. When Chitti’s feelings aren’t reciprocated – Sana thinks of him as a ‘toy-friend’ instead of a boyfriend – all hell breaks loose.
Robot’s most compelling feature is the character of Chitti. Deriving from sources ranging from Blade Runner to Frankenstein, Shankar uses Chitti to make a comment on the human condition.
Like us, Chitti wants to live, he wants to love but like us, he is also tragically flawed, capable of blinding hubris and horrific destruction. Of course these sub-texts are buried under masala so extravagant that your jaws drop.
There are several gorgeously shot songs, including one in Machu Picchu, that has several llamas in the frame with a swaying Aishwarya. Sadly however, A R Rahman’s music is singularly unmemorable.
As is the character of Sana who is essentially a Barbie doll required to look either gorgeous or afraid. Let me also warn you that it takes some time to get used to the film’s supremely over-the- top sensibility. Robot doesn’t have an under-stated moment in its three-hour running time.
At one point, Chitti has an extended conversation with mosquitoes. And it took me a good ten minutes just to get past the wig that Rajinikanth wears as Dr. Vasi.
But once you’re in the flow of things, the plot gives you no time for pause. Of course the scale moves to another level with the special effects that have been done by some of the same technicians who worked on Jurassic Park. In the climax, an army of Chittis transforms itself into a snake and gorges on the enemy.
But through all these fantastical, futuristic images, Shankar keeps the flavor strictly home- grown. The robot is given his name by Dr. Vasi’s mother and even though Chitti menacingly abducts Sana, it never gets too risqué.
Robot rides on Rajinikanth’s shoulders and he never stoops under the burden. Aided by snazzy clothes, make-up and special effects, he makes Chitti endearing.
Robot is exhausting. You won’t have much energy left when it’s done. But this roller-coaster ride should be experienced.