Shankar’s films have always been known for extravagance and visuals. To some of Shankar’s films may be in your face and loud, but for those who are familiar with his work, it is known that they are up for a magical ride of three hours. Shankar and Rajamouli are two of the last showmen in the Indian film Industry. I feel that the last showman in Bollywood was Mukul Anand.
Everyone who follows Shankar knows that he wanted to work with SUPERSTAR RAJINI since his first film. He even named his lead character on Rajini’s real name Shivaji Rao in his film Mudhalvan which was later remade in Hindi as Nayak – The Real Hero, which till date remains Shankar’s only straight Hindi film.
When Shankar got a chance to make a film with his idol Rajni, he made Sivaji- The Boss, which basically was a Rajni film directed by a fanboy director. It eulogised Rajni in no small extent and compared him to MGR. The movie though engaging and one of the best pulp entertainers from Rajinikanth till date had shades of Mudhalvan and Gentleman.
Shankar then reunited with Rajni to give us Enthiran (Robot in Hindi). To the surprise of the audience and fans, it was a Shankar film starring Rajni. Shankar took away the introductory song for Rajni. Rajinikanth even gets scared of a goon in the movie. Shankar gave us the evil side of the superstar which the audience has been missing since Baasha.
Enthiran even though a sci-fi film had to still fulfil all expectations of the Indian audience. Shankar did not disappoint, it had all the trademarks of Shankar. Remember the scene while in the midst of the fight, Chitti kicks a man for spitting outside the train or the scene where he fights goons who play songs on the loudspeaker with complete disregard to the public.
Shankar has directed two films after Enthiran, one of them was Nanban which was a faithful remake of 3 idiots, the only time film had its moment was when Shankar made fun of his own obsession with visual effects in songs, followed by I which I feel is one of his weakest films.
2.0 begins with the suicide of a man in a cell phone tower, followed by unexplained incidents of mobile phones disappearing from the city of Chennai. Dr Vasegaran (Rajni) feels that to fight this unknown force, they need to bring back Chitti.
Those who follow Shankar’s template know how a hero who follows the law of the land, is victimised gets justice by becoming a vigilante. Be it Gentleman, Indian or Anniyan his films have developed the same template, and making the audience root for his vigilante character despite their violent methods to address the problem.
In Enthiran he made us root for Chitti, who is innocent at first but is corrupted by humans. What makes Enthiran still relevant today with the advent of AI is the question of whether machines can learn our bias and prejudice, the answer for that, unfortunately, is a resounding yes. It is proven now that all human beings and machines will have the preference, but we still have not found a way how to overcome this bias and not impose them on others. In Enthiran Shankar had Sujatha to guide him, who is one of the few Indian writers who wrote on sci-fi and was a pioneer in this field.
When 2.0 was announced, I was curious to know if Shankar could deliver a good film without his trusted aide Sujatha whose last work was Enthiran.2.0 is a sci-film in a Shankar’s template, and it delivers what it promises to an extent. It is interesting to note that two films which have been released this year Kaala and 2.0 despite featuring Rajni do not have tropes of what fans expect in a Rajni film, it speaks volume of an actor who still wants to push the envelope in a mainstream commercial film in a way which does not alienate his fans and gives him a chance to explore his talents.
In 2.0 we see that the good guy Dr Vaseegaran, played by Rajinikanth is one of the most underwhelming characters in the film and does not offer anything new. This is sad considering the first part had shades of grey in it. We are reintroduced to Chitti which is where the fun begins, but the real excitement starts when the red chip holder Chitti aka 2.0 is back, this is where Rajni seems to be in his element. This is where Shankar allows his star to play to the gallery, the scene where he says number games are for kids and not him had me clapping.
Akshay Kumar plays the role of antagonist in the film who is introduced in the interval of the film, unlike a Rajni film here the build-up of his character is what makes the audience wait for him.
Is there any Indian director who likes to shoot torture scenes or death scenes like Shankar? When we thought we have seen all that Shankar can do, we get to look at his wild imagination in this film where characters are murdered by mobile phones in ways which we cannot imagine.
Akshay plays PakshiRaja, a scientist, it is interesting to note that even in Enthiran the villain was a scientist Dr.Bohra. Shankar harps on the same theme, a weapon or an idea is good as long as it remains with people who are kind and machines inherently are good for progress provided how we use them.
Shankar’s films are known for songs, and here we get two songs in the narrative with both of them used in background, it is interesting to see both Shankar and Mani Ratnam frequent collaborators with A.R. Rahman who are known to use songs in the film are no more interested in routine dance set-pieces, though I would love to have them in Shankar’s film.
Shankar revisits one of his favourite theme here, who is right and who is bad, what makes a person evil? In the monstrous climax, which I felt was underwhelming. Shankar seems to be in a hurry to showcase look what I can do to impress the audience. In this cacophony of VFX laden action set-pieces, Shankar tries to ask can end justify the means. The minibot 3.0 threatens to kill innocent birds, to save human begins, but then who decides the lives of human beings are much more worthy than other animals with whom we share the planet?
Can we go on with our mindless technology progress for our own greed while ignoring the lives and environmental impact on our planet?
Unfortunately, Shankar is interested in this idea at the superficial level and wants us to give us bang for our buck, not that I am complaining.
2.0 delivers on the front which it promises, a spectacle filled with action set-pieces, Shankar even gives tribute to Sujatha by naming his character NILA, a nod to En Iniya Iyanthira, a novel by Sujatha about Robots set in 2020 AD.
By the time the end credits rolled, I was wondering what if Sujatha was alive would this have been a different film? I think it might have then been a great film, for now, it is an entertaining film but does not match to the level of Enthiran. Despite this, 2.0 deserves a watch in cinema halls because not many Indian directors dare to dream so big and provide us with such a gigantic big screen experience, Shankar does not fail to do that.