By Poulomi Das Nov. 29, 2018
Despite Rajinikanth’s presence, 2.0 ensures it is an equal battleground for its hero and antagonist. It’s the villain Pakshirajan – a fabulous Akshay Kumar – who gets the indulgent backstory; he’s the first character we see in the film and the only one to merit a song.
In India, a superhero film is never allowed to be just that. Instead, a home-bred venture must include a medley of genres – from romance and drama to comedy and musical. The stakes are even higher when it’s a superhero film starring Rajinikanth.
In addition to these existing hybrids, the superhero tale is also contrived to slickly incorporate “Rajinisms” – as witnessed in Shankar’s Enthiran where the superstar played a double role as the scientist and his villainous robot. Its sequel, 2.0, which has been in the making for over three years, obediently takes forward the tradition of allowing Rajinikanth’s stardom to take over and define every aspect of the film. 2.0 is at once, a comedy, a vigilante film, a socially conscious drama, an action adventure, a sci-fi spectacle, a romance, and a superhero film. And Rajinikanth plays saviour, vigilante, underdog, romantic hero, action hero, comic hero, and a superhero – in four starring roles plus innumerable mutated versions of them.
Yet despite being loaded with quinnessential Rajinisms – including the slo-mo walk, self-referential dialogue, witty punchlines, and, well, immortality – 2.0 stands out for acknowledging the problem plaguing every superhero film. Traditionally, superhero outings (especially ones in the Marvel universe) think very little of their villains: Rarely are they credible threats for their heroes. Think Hela in Thor: Ragnarok or Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy. Barring Avengers: Infinity War’s Thanos, most villains in superhero outings are a forgettable formality.
However, 2.0 chooses to stray from that convention and comes very close to making it an equal battleground for its hero and villain. It’s Pakshirajan (a fabulous Akshay Kumar), the film’s villain who gets the elaborate backstory; he’s the first character we see in the film and the only one to merit a song. A sixty-something ornithologist who commits suicide inside a cell phone tower, Pakshirajan mutates into a supernatural spirit – made up of cell phones and dead birds – who unleashes his wrath on a world over-dependent on cell phones.
Besides looking at the obvious effects of technology on the environment, Shankar also reimagines 2.0’s antagonist as its hero: Pakshirajan is humanised and allowed to have a moral compass and the audience’s sympathy. Lyca Productions
Besides looking at the obvious effects of technology on the environment, Shankar also reimagines 2.0’s antagonist as its hero: Pakshirajan is humanised and allowed to have a moral compass and the audience’s sympathy.
A day after his death, the residents of Chennai experience a mysterious phenomenon when their phones vanish into thin air. Unable to justify the occurrence, the government reaches out to Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) for help. It doesn’t take him long to ascertain a “fifth force” is behind the cell phone draught and three telecom-related deaths in the city. Naturally, the scientist brings back Chitti (Rajinikanth), his OG indestructible robot, to help him save the city from the impending catastrophe.
But before he gets to do that, 2.0 affords Pakshirajan and his motivations the time and space to seep into the film’s universe. As a result, we get an origin story of a vigilante who was forced to turn into a villian out of sheer desperation – a narrative device exclusively reserved for underdog heroes. In a flashback, we learn that Pakshirajan, who was saved at birth by a bird, dedicated his life to studying and protecting them. He eventually realises that harmful radiations from cell phone towers are slowly and steadily wiping out our avian friends. As a common man living in a country driven by corruption and greed, his efforts to reveal the ways in which network operators manipulate TRAI regulations, go in vain. Obviously, the only option he has is to return as a supernatural spirit who punishes everyone complicit in harming the environment.
2.0 chooses to stray from that convention and comes very close to making it an equal battleground for its hero and villain.
2.0 has an inventive premise, a stock feature in Shankar’s films. Enthiran (2010), for instance, relied on “What happens when a machine sets out to destroy the man who created it?” while Mudhalvan (1999) brought alive the familiar fantasy of a common man becoming a Chief Minister for a day. Yet in 2.0, the premise is weakened by the director’s frustating execution. Although, Shankar technically reimagines the antagonist as its hero: Pakshirajan is humanised and allowed to have a moral compass and the audience’s sympathy. But tired hero-worship tropes ensure that Rajnikanth remains the de-facto hero. In fact, two of the film’s most extraordinary action set-pieces belong to Pakshirajan. In one of them, Kumar is a hoot as he goes about manipulating Chitti into not attacking him by possessing Dr Vasee and then destroying Chitti, piece by piece. The packed morning show that I was in, couldn’t help but whistle.
Unfortunately, the fact that Pakshirajan effortlessly towers over four Rajinikanths is also 2.0’s greatest weakness and its undoing. To make up for it, the film scrambles to overcompensate by needlessly doubling up on the superstar’s heroics. The result is a long drawn-out and unimaginative climatic action sequence that exposes our inherent double-standards in what we accept in heroes (and includes a completely indefensible Hiroshima joke).
But 2.0 – India’s most expensive film mounted at an estimated ₹600 crore – also demands some questions: Can we really label the film as “the future” when it continues to exist in a overtly male universe where the 67-year-old Rajinikanth plays 30-year-olds? A universe that doesn’t have even one fully realised female character? (Amy Jackson plays Neela, the robot who saves Chitti and is objectified in return). And how long can the legend of Rajini continue to shield the actor from taking risks that benefit his films?
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.