"Spectacular", "Magnificent," "Great" – These are some of the words commonly used to describe a Shankar movie. Grandeur is what an average audience expects from Shankar, whether he has a good story, gripping script, beautiful songs, memorable performances to offer. He can not satisfy a massive population of the audience across the country if he does not present his movie on a large scale. He is James Cameron of Indian Cinema, you see. We do not get rid of anything less of him than impressive as we do not see in other Indian movies.
Shankar as the filmmaker is still under pressure to continue making bigger films. Even in a political drama like Mudhalvan (1999), he included a song like "Mudhalvanae", where he created a CGI universe filled with giant snakes with human faces.
What to expect when Shankar joins the superman of Indian cinema, Rajinikanth? Nothing lacks grandeur. That's what we got the actor duo collaboration for the first time in 2007 for Sivaji. The film was a regular pot boiler about vigilant justice, but mounted on a large scale.
Rajinikanth had retired to his "cave" after the Baba book (2003), where he looked physically weak and small. He ran back with Chandramukhi (2005), yet the filmmakers were not very successful in finding him an impressive wig.
In 2007, Shankar achieved a breakthrough of kind with Rajinikanth's makeover. It gave the audience a stronger and younger looking Rajinikanth. Something that could make Abbas swim over Superstar (while breaking out "What a man?") Again, just as he did in Padayappa (1999). Each song's eye-shaped backdrop (wonderfully created by Thotta Tharani), AR Rahman's music and Shankar's expertise in rolling out vigilant rights films, seemed so good in entertaining the audience. Rajinikanth as Motta Boss against the climate made sure that the audience left the theater with the feeling that they got their money worth.
Three years later Enthiran: The robot was released. In 2010 it was the most expensive Indian movie ever made. Once again, the focus was on its "greatness", the money used to hire specialists from Hollywood experts, star cast, Aishwarya Rai romancing Rajinikanth for the first time and so on. More attention was given to the logistics and less on the content.
Rewatching Enthiran on a streaming site was a different experience than watching the big screen. I was more tolerant of the filmmaker's mistakes, which was in rush to show a robot that developed cognitive abilities, and I fell in love with her boyfriend's boyfriend so they could come to the more interesting parts of the movie: a humanoid robot that destroys city.
Shankar takes the time to set up the stage for the main conflict to play. But when he comes, he continues a very engaging pace. He has built the entire movie with small but very memorable sequences. As the scene sat in a ghetto backdrop, where Chitti attracts all that's metal. Or the whole thing that takes place on the train.
In the second half of the film we can see Rajinikanth's Chitti through a massive transformation. A "man", who is love with a girl, is abandoned by his own creator and is left to die. He is resurrected from the "dead", but he is pure evil now. Blinded by lust, he kills everything that comes between him and his lady's love. And then back to the senses with an apologetic "heart". Apart from Chitti, no other character in the film is undergoing such a big transformation throughout the film's term. Even Dr Vaseegaran is very underwritten as Shankar struggles to accommodate two Rajinikanths in the manuscript.
Aishwarya Rai like Sana can only enjoy the expensive dreamy duet songs. Shankar has written a cringe-worthy scene for Aishwarya, where she prays Kalabhavan Mani to be her one-day boyfriend (like the daily prime minister in Mudhalvan). And why? So that she could encourage the girlfriend Vaseegaran, who is in mourning. Shankar must work with his ideas of writing scenes for female characters.
The characters in Santhanam and Karunas feel unnatural throughout the layout. Danny Denzongpa's Bohra, "the most important antagonist", is leveled by the script unsure of the convenience of history.
But we did not buy tickets to see a strong female character, a nuanced villain, and be ribbed by the king of comedy. Shankar knows we paid to see Chitti go rouge, and when it comes to that point, Shankar has done a solid job. In the pre-climax sequence, Shankar has let the imagination run up with hundreds of robots working together, taking forms of anaconda, giant man and much more. Rajinikanth let down his hair and channel his inner MN Nambiar does what Motta Boss did to Sivaji. It gives the audience a sense of satisfaction that they earned their money.