Forget about subtle. Director Shankar’s Robot is so confident in its outlandishness and star power it almost seems pointless to write this review. With Robot Shankar and his star Rajnikanth take the viewer on a riot of a journey, going above and beyond their last outing together Sivaji-The Boss. The canvas and vision of the film is HUGE (yes, it deserves the capital letters). Absolutely nothing is understated in this film, and Shankar and Rajni don’t really care. They care about an explosion of entertainment and that is exactly what defines Robot. The film has holes and blemishes aplenty but with a film such as this, you want to watch it to be carpet bombed with the director’s larger-than-life imagination. That, and more special effects and CGI than you have ever seen in Indian cinema.
In terms of story, Robot is very simple and rather predictable. A genius scientist Vaseegaran (Rajnikanth) creates an android in his likeness and christens him Chitti. Soon enough, this robo-Rajni falls in love with his creator’s girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and, with the connivance of Vaseegaran’s jealous mentor Dr. Bohra (Danny Denzongpa) goes Frankenstein and wreaks havoc on the world. Well, just Chennai. Those expecting the same charmingly silly humor of Sivaji–The Boss will be somewhat disappointed. The comic moments are relatively rare, the sexual jokes are crude, and the two lab assistant sidekicks to Vaseegaran (Santhanam and Karunas) fail to deliver the funny punches and are unnecessary in general.
However, Shankar fills Robot with creative plot developments and inspired moments. For instance, there’s a distinct change in Chitti’s character as he goes from emotionless to gradually evolving feelings, effectively expressing anger, sympathy, and his downfall, love. Also, in a masterstroke of writing by Shankar, the increasingly enraged Chitti outdoes the original villain Dr. Bohra, thus pitting Rajni the scientist against Rajni the robot for a climactic showdown. The film is also littered with very forgettable scenes and special effects – the fetus animation and the talking mosquitoes are just plain ridiculous, even for a film like this. Redemption comes in the climax, which is about thirty minutes of CGI gone wild. Watching hundreds of Rajni robots forming a giant cannonball, then a drill pummeling the ground, then a slithering anaconda, and many more such destructive formations is a sight to behold. It’s out of this world and keeps you gripped.
It is almost impossible for anyone to outshine Rajni in his films and that applies to Robot too. There really is no reason for Aishwarya to be in this film. Her role could have been played by anyone else and besides looking gorgeous she doesn't add much to the plot. She shrieks and whines as the damsel in distress, over and over again. Danny Denzongpa delivers perhaps the most restrained of all the performances in such an over-the-top film. He brings a cool and calculated cunning to his role. As for Rajni, the thirty-second title sequence at the beginning of the film announcing him as “Superstar Rajni” says it all. It’s his film throughout and he never lets you forget that. He essentially plays three characters in Robot – the brilliant but somewhat wimpy scientist, the adorably clueless “newborn” robot and the invincible destruction machine that he eventually becomes. My favorite has to be Rajni as the evil robot. His maniacal laugh, ridiculous wigs, and obsessive need to please Sana, are played to masala-film-villain perfection.
I have to salute Shankar for realizing such sensational vision and taking Indian cinema to a new level of mass entertainment. Robot has a very simple yet effective man vs. machine message at its core and, despite a loose script and a lengthy runtime, it is a cinematic spectacle. The action scenes and stunning song sequences explain why this is reportedly the most expensive Indian film to date. If the recent Dabangg was a storm, Robot is a category five hurricane! You can’t miss the experience.