Scientist Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajnikanth) creates a robot with artificial intelligence to help human beings and the development of the country. All hell breaks loose when its silicon heart falls in love with his neglected girl friend, Sana (Aishwarya Rai).The robot in his jealous rage joins up with the forces of evil. Will Rajni be able to save himself from his own creation?

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18 Mar 2011 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2011 - 12:00 AM

1.5
Kollywood creation has a few screws loose.

INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Imagine the worst bits of Alex Proyas’ I, Robot (2004) and Robert Greenwald’s Xanadu (1980), cobbled together with a dash of Shaw’s Pygmalion, and you get some grim picture as to what S. Shankar’s grating extravaganza Robot has to offer.

Indian cinema’s most expensive folly to date comfortably sits amongst the Ishtars and Inchons of film history; so overblown and ill-disciplined is its execution, it’s only claim to infamy will be as one of the most strained, ill-fitting vanity projects world cinema has ever produced.

The ego at the centre of this debacle is Kollywood superstar Rajinikanth, whose popularity amongst Tamil audiences has been rabid since the 1975 hit, Apoorva Raagangal. In the dual roles of cyborg-researcher Dr. Vaseegaran and his mirror-image creation, Rajinikanth has an exorbitant amount of screen time to fill (most of interminable 165 minutes, in fact) yet displays no discernible charisma or audience connection.

The linear narrative follows the heartfelt human yearnings and unrequited passions of Chitti, an ultra-humanistic android who develops feelings of passion for Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). They share significant moments – a wild, Stephen Chow-inspired action set-piece aboard a train (the non-dancing highlight of the film); a late-night visitation during which Chitti makes a mosquito apologise for biting Sana (seriously...); and a first kiss that alters Chitti’s hard-wiring. Post-intermission, Chitti grows vengeful after being rejected by Sana, and the film culminates in an over-extended and spectacularly stupid effects finale that only occasionally reflects the film’s highly-publicised budget (US$34million, allegedly).

Director and co-writer Shankar refuses to shed any of the clichéd elements that have become comically synonymous with Kollywood B-pictures – cornball emoting, slapstick support players, wildly off-kilter dubbing and subtitling. Pairing with Rajinikanth yet again (their last film together was the 2007 Tamil blockbuster, Sivaji), Shankar employs a veritable who’s-who of international behind-the-scenes specialists – the Stan Winston physical effects studio, stunt legend Yuen Woo-Ping, the omnipresent Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman, to name a few – but all entirely in the service of a doggedly regionalised film.

The only component of the film that delivers are the dance sequences, staged with the usual dedication to production design detail and cinematic fluidity. While Rajinikanth clearly struggles with the pace of even the most basic choreography, the eternally-youthful Rai Bachchan still moves with a lithe, photogenic grace – she will forever be remembered as one of cinema’s great beauties (though let’s not encourage anymore mid-song rapping). Ultimately, though, Shankar and his cinematographer R. Rathnavelu’s camerawork captures the colour but offers very little that is fresh.

The meagre audience numbers (made worse by the occasional walkout) at the Indian Film Festival screening that SBS Film attended suggests ex-pat audiences who have settled in upscale metropolitan centres globally may have outgrown such cynical star-driven frivolities as Rajinikanth’s wretched Robot.

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