On November 20, Yash Raj Studios in suburban Mumbai resembled a bank: there were long queues as people jostled to get in; tempers flew; stern-faced bouncers lurked about to keep the peace.
The transaction that drew journalists, photographers and camera crews out on a Sunday did not involve currency notes. Tamil director Shankar’s 2.0, the sequel to his hugely successful science fiction drama Endhiran (2010), will be released only in Diwali 2017, but the first look has hit the market early. The stakes have more than doubled since Sun Group chairperson Kalanithi Maran spent an alleged Rs 130 crore on Endhiran. The sequel has been bankrolled by Sri Lankan Tamil businessman Subaskaran Allirajah’s company Lyca Productions at an alleged cost of Rs 350 crore – “the most expensive film in Asia”, event compere Karan Johar reminded the crowds. (Allirajah, a London resident, also own the mobile network operator Lycamobile and has attracted controversy in the British press for his donations to the Conservative Party.)
In Endhiran, Rajinikanth played a genius scientist and his robot creation Chitti, while 2.0 explores the further adventures of Chitti. Like Endhiran, which had Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Danny Denzongpa in the cast, 2.0 is a Tamil production that is aiming to conquer the lucrative Bollywood market. The cast includes Akshay Kumar and Amy Jackson, and the music is once again by AR Rahman.
The event was on a bigger scale than the trailer launch of the dubbed version of Endhiran, titled Robot, in Mumbai six years ago. In 2010, Rajinikanth, Kalanithi Maran, Shankar, editor Anthony, Rai Bachchan and Rahman had charmed the Mumbai media at a smaller and less unwieldy ceremony. Amitabh Bachchan, an old co-star and friend of Rajinikanth, had also attended the event, while the southern superstar, typically modestly dressed in a black shirt and jeans and without a wig to conceal his baldness, had send the crowd into raptures with his banter.
The queue was the first sign that the November 20 event was being taken as seriously as a Reserve Bank of India policy announcement. The media was given badges before being ushered into one of the YRF studio lots. Various WizCraft event management company staffers and bouncers ran about, while the fortunate guests who had the special invites that allowed them closer to the stage sauntered in.
Inside the venue, three giant screens displayed binary code in an effort to remind those who came in late of the movie’s basis in science fiction.
After a 105-minute delay, Karan Johar took the stage to guide the bashful crew of 2.0 through the evening. Hyperbole was the order of the day, perhaps to be expected from a production with a high-wattage cast and a budget that is enough to make a dozen films. “It is what you call a memorable day in the history of cinema,” Johar said, proving himself yet again to be the best candidate to talk up a movie that is several months away. “Legendary” was frequently bandied about as Shankar, Rahman, production designer Muthuraj, writer Jeyamohan (Abbas Tyrewala has written the Hindi dialogue), editor Anthony, cinematographer Nirav Shah, visual effects supervisor Srinivas Mohan, lyricist Madan Karkey, sound designer Resul Pookutty and actors Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar all trooped onto the stage. From their various statements, here is what is known at this point about 2.0: it is going to be sold as a 3D film, and has also been shot with 3D cameras. The sound design is apparently going to involve a format that has not been used before in films. Rajinikanth’s Chitti is once again likely to be a dark character.
For all the grandiosity involved in the spectacle – even Salman Khan dropped by to declare his love for Rajinikanth and bless the project – there were hiccups. The still photographers at the back never stopped complaining about the poor lighting conditions. The 3D version of the teaser had a glitch, because of which it had to be played again – a very 1.0 problem for a movie that is claiming to be the most technologically advanced in the history of Indian cinema. The view of the photographers was ruined by a chair in which Rajinikanth’s hologram was perched before the actor came onto the stage in person. In the event’s best idea, augmented reality was used to project an image of Chitti sitting on the chair and answering questions.
The real Rajinikanth’s presence led to whistles and cheers, and the superstar, dressed in black, was his usual self-deprecating and bemused self. He was generous to a fault, and said that the real hero of 2.0 is Akshay Kumar, not him. “If I had been given a choice, I would have selected the character played by Akshay,” he said.
The intimacy and humour from the 2010 event was missing, which is to be expected given 2.0’s gargantuan ambitions. At the older event, only a few metres separated the stage and the press posse. This time, the 2.0 team seemed far away. The stakes are far higher, and the teaser launch of a movie whose release is many months away seems to be aimed at recruiting potential backers and distributors in the Mumbai film trade. The movie’s title is not just about the rebooted Chitti, but about the whole project itself.