Cast: Rajnikant, Aishwarya Rai, Danny Denzongpa
In a climatic sequence in "Robot", thousands of Rajnikants link themselves together to form a huge drill, then a jumbo ball raining bullets, a massive python, and finally a towering giant who bursts from the underground. It's moments like these when you lean back in your seat and salute director Shankar's remarkable vision.
'Robot' has a clear plot to hook the viewer in place rather than impress with empty special effects.
Unlike so many bloated sci-fi adventures we've seen, particularly in Bollywood, "Robot" has a clear plot to hook the viewer in place rather than impress with empty special effects. When Vaseegaran, the brilliant scientist played by Rajni, creates an android resembling himself, he intends for it to become a weapon in the Indian army to avoid human lives being risked on the battlefield.
Christened Chitti, the super robot soon has Vaseegaran's family and his beautiful girlfriend Sana (played by Aishwarya Rai) eating out of his hand. But not everyone is taken in by the robot. Vaseegaran's mentor Dr Bora (played by Danny Denzongpa) burns with envy, as he is secretly working on his own army of terrorist robots. He desperately needs the chip that propels Chitti, so he does his best to sabotage the relationship between Vaseegaran and Chitti. Yet he doesn't have to try too hard - that age-old problem strikes. The girl comes between man and machine, when Chitti develops feelings for Sana.
A robot with feelings, you ask? Well, Shankar executes the idea interestingly. Chitti is taught emotions like happiness and sorrow by his creator, and he scans books describing feelings within nano-seconds. So when Chitti actually starts depicting jealousy pangs or signs of possessiveness, you're engrossed.
In the first half, it's difficult to fault Robot with the fun it packs in. Shankar justifies the ambition of the idea, turning Chitti into a kind of superhero robot run on electrical charge, but powered with phenomenal strength. The robot can also cook up a mouth-watering buffet in seconds, dance like Prabhudeva, and karate chop ruffians into submission just like Bruce Lee. ((pause)) In the midst of this, there is also a dash of humor thrown in to lighten the mood. As Chitti races sideways on a moving train to protect Sana from a band of rapists, he still has a moment to stamp the face of a man ready to unload a mouthful of paan spit.
"Robot" lags when it sidetracks into the romance between Vaseegaran and Sana. It's jarring, as is the film's never-ending second-half, which mostly involves the scientist trying to rescue Sana from Chitti's lair.
In the end, it's the fantastic special effects and an inspired performance from Rajnikant that keeps the film fresh. The effort that Shankar has poured into this dream project is evident from the scale of "Robot". Most local sci-fi films tend to ape Hollywood, but "Robot" never falls into that trap. Shankar stays with the sensibilities of his audiences here, and that's what sets the special effects apart. Even though you feel a little fatigued by the extended action sequences, every once in a while you catch yourself smiling at how Chitti swivels his head 360 degrees when he's racing a car, or the comic-book style with which he fires an armful of ammunition.
Rajnikant's aura is usually bigger than the movies he's in, yet with "Robot", he tailors himself to the double role. It's hard to imagine another actor in these super-robot shoes. Chitti is absolutely lovable and when he's led astray, Rajni invests his evil with flair.
Aishwarya looks gorgeous, but her damsel-in-distress act is too wide-eyed and shrill. AR Rahman's soundtrack is music to the ears, and in the director's trademark style, the visualization of the songs stand out for their originality - especially the breathtaking "Kilimanjaro" song shot at the heights of Machu Picchu.
Ultimately, if there's anything that eats into the fun you have watching this movie, it's the length. Almost three hours long, "Robot" gets rusty with too many songs and a handful of unnecessary sequences that play spoilsport. Still, I'm going with three out of five for Shankar's "Robot". If you enjoy spectacle in your cinema, "Robot" is an adventure waiting for you at the cinemas.
Rating: 3 / 5
Tipu Sultan, Lucknow
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