It all boils down to the choice I make. I can choose to be brutally honest to my audience and narrate my movie experience as a critic. Or I can channelize the inner Superstar fan in me to take over, and be amazed, enthralled and carried away by the infectious cheer, excitement and joy, a first day Rajni movie can incite. I could risk being termed a skeptic, a nitpicker, a ‘cynic’ blind to the gargantuan amount of efforts which has gone into the movie, in the process of being true to myself and cinema. Or I could choose to disregard anything which could potentially disappoint the avid Rajini fans who are obviously the majority and fill my entire review with words like exhilarating charisma, path-breaking charm, phenomenal aura, shivers down the spine and what not! Yes, Kochadaiiyaan is definitely special. Special in the way that it turns out to be a film which vehemently attracts both the extremes. Either a critic or a Superstar/ Tamil cinema fan talking about ‘attempting an innovation’ and ‘pushing the envelope’. Either this or that! Enough has been said about venturing on the road less trodden and the guts of the makers to do it. Here, I will endeavor to walk the tight rope between the two view-points and give an unbiased opinion on what works and what doesn’t.
Well, first things first. This movie’s script has almost everything it takes to make a block-buster dramatic action entertainer appealing to Indian sensibilities, if made into a regular feature film. And it definitely demands someone with an extraordinary screen presence and fan-base like Rajni to pull off the role of the protagonists convincingly. That being said, then the question arises ”Why make it into an animation movie?”. Again you have a choice here. You can stick with the theory of attempting a novel idea for the first time. Or you can come out of your shell to realize that it’s nearly impossible to do a regular feature film in a canvas as grand as this, with the kind of inherent budget constraints our industry faces. ‘Motion-capture technology’ might be taxing and expensive, but it still makes the grandeur imaginable, at least in theory. More importantly, we all love Rajni! And we would die to watch his electrifying moves and stunts on-screen. Again, animation is the only way we can have him do a ‘Rudra Thandavam’ with an eight pack and some breath-taking dare-devilry, given his health and age. And what a sight that promises to be! So as I see it, the decision to animate the movie is pretty much justified. But then, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and so the all important question is how has the final product shaped up? Far from satisfactory, I would say. Nevertheless, the film has its moments too.
Despite the ‘tough-to-ignore’ humongous amount of background effort put in by hundreds of technicians, two people (apart from brand ‘Rajini’) make the heart and soul of the movie to me – KS. Ravikumar for his simple yet striking script, reasonably tight screenplay, and epic dialogues and AR. Rahman for the stunning songs and super-imposing background score. KSR’s skill in weaving gripping sequences is particularly evident in the second half, where it helps to make the proceedings a bit interesting despite the technical blemishes. His tale encompassing a gamut of emotions including love, trust, deprivation, sacrifice, betrayal, redemption and retribution has all the makings of a successful ‘super-star script’. His dialogues for Rajni (especially for the “Kochaidaiiyaan” segment and the climax) are all top-notch and when voiced by the Superstar do send shivers down our spines. Great job! You have to give it to AR Rahman for his bewitching BGM which elevates the action sequences to a different level. He brings out the atmosphere of a by-gone era almost accurately with his stupendous orchestration and ‘fusion’ instrumentation. The brilliance of the songs make us overlook their apparent excess, which hampers the pace of the script. The maestro proves his mettle, yet again! Resul Pookutty’s realistic sound-mixing is praise-worthy, especially in the war scenes.
For whatever the movie is worth, it wouldn’t have turned out even ‘borderline-watchable’, if you take out the Superstar and his amazing voice from the equation. In fact, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in his place in this attempt to animate a real-life star. He, in spite of the visual distractions, exudes charm with his mannerisms and his body-language as ‘Kochadaiiyaan’. The ‘Shiva’ dance, the action choreography on the ship and the way he walks and pulls out his sword are some well-executed shots! He lends a lot of power to the climax with his trademark dialogue delivery and brilliant quips. But the problem with ‘Kochadaiiyaan’ is that when it dawns upon you after the initial trance that most of the action sequences and dance moves have not been actually performed by Rajni, you tend to automatically shift your focus to the quality of making and animation. And that’s where the film falters and stunts the experience of seeing an ‘animated’ super-star on-screen.
Substandard animation plagues the movie right from the start, standing out discernibly and distracting us from the bewitching voice-over by AR.Rahman. In fact, Rajini who turns out to be the best animated character among the lot, comes across with a stoic wooden face and crude movements. The overall making tends to get better post interval, but I strongly feel its a case of a strong narrative taking precedence over the glitches in visual effects. The ‘Kochadaiiyan’ character and his traits have been molded slightly better than that of Ranadheeran. Other than the exceptions of Nasser, Shobana and the late Nagesh(kudos to the dubbing artist), none of the characters look like their live counter parts on screen. Add to it some bad lip sync, what you get is a product that is largely unsatisfactory. The animated versions of Sarath Kumar, Deepika Padukone and Rukmini are all disasters who move around like puppets. A particular action sequence with Deepika has been choreographed brilliantly, but again the execution falls short. Also, the decision to show Deepika several inches shorter than Rajni does not augur well for the spirit of Super-star.
Yes, this is a pioneering attempt and bearing in mind the financial limitations, expecting ‘perfection’ would be largely unfair. But the ‘attempt’ looks so immature and unrefined that it makes it real tough for us to invest in the well-written characters and their motives.The cinematographer Rajeev Menon and the art-direction team have to be commended for visualizing the grandeur of the war zone, coastline and the palaces, but again only fifty percent of it translates to the screen. Not very bad in the long shots, I would say. But a greater trouble is the 3D which is unpardonably bad. The 3D serves no logical purpose in the movie other than magnifying the already nagging animation issues. The only episode which got me excited in 3D was the superstar credits right at the beginning. The 3D lacks any sort of depth and only accentuates the poor making skills, highlighting the unnatural robotic movements and flat facial expressions. Costumes by fashion-designer Neeta Lulla are however near-perfect and in sync with the milieu. Editing by Anthony is crisp and almost flawless.
Kochadaiiyaan begins with a lively introduction sequence, which will make you sit up and take notice despite the ‘motion capture’ misfiring big time. The first half of the movie which follows is slow, disorderly and juvenile and picks up steam only towards the interval segment with a decent action sequence. The second half slowly draws you in and gets you invested in the script and the character of ‘Kochadaiyaan’ and that makes even the animation seem a little better. The twist in the end however comes across as lame and rushed. The end credits sequence is neatly done, and helps to showcase the hard-work and efforts taken. Despite all the faults, director Soundarya and her team deserve their share of applause for daring to blaze the trail by taking a path not traveled much by Indian film-makers. Sad that it turns out to be another curious case of ‘Intent Vs Implementation’. If not for anything, the movie does instill the confidence that this imperfect baby-step might open the doors for much better animation and visual effects in the near future in India.
Kochaidaiiyaan has its moments, when Rajni rules the screen with his voice and powerful screen presence in the second half. Only that I found it very difficult to ignore the huge animation glitches to thoroughly enjoy it. Go for it for Rajini, only if you feel that you could look past the conspicuous visual shortcomings. But remember to stick with the 2D version in case you decide to watch it, as it makes it easier to forget the lack of finesse and appreciate the positives of the script.