Amar Chitra Katha. Comics we grew up with, with rich illustrations of stories of kings, wars and moral instructions, now in 3D, with the spirit of Rajinikanth. That should have been the peg. Kochadaiiyaan would have lived up to that promise.
Because that’s what it really is – technology that makes actors Amar, Chitra that’s not shot with a camera and a good old-fashioned Katha. “Once upon a time, in the kingdom of….”
Tintin and Avatar were possibly the worst examples the makers could have chosen to set the expectations. Simply because, though they were using motion capture technology, the makers here were working with considerably lower budgets, lesser time with half the number of cameras or markers used by those films to be able to generate that kind of data or detail.
It was an unrealistic standard and this has cost the makers dearly. Short of calling it Rajinikanth’s Tin Avatar (Gree-D) critics have ripped the film apart for the audacity of such comparisons (some of the more unkind reviewers have called it “a bad puppet show” and the technology “loose motion capture”). It was ambition way beyond their means. Or experience. Destined to fail, only because the makers aimed for the sky.
Strictly in that context, the tree-top isn’t a bad start. The 3D motion capture cinema has a long way to go and this may be a small step but it is a significant one.
Criticism requires holistic analysis of form and content but given that the pitch for this film has largely been the form, the film has largely been judged ONLY on the form and rather unfairly at that.
The medium is not always the message. The unrealistic marketing pitch aside, the form here is on par with Amar Chitra Katha comic illustrations, which is not necessarily a bad standard for Indian animation. It has an emotional appeal. We grew up reading those comics. Only that here, the quality of animation is quite inconsistent with attention to detail limited to the principal cast and even that emotive detailing that the principal characters are given aren’t strong enough all through. It is like watching Giant Robot in period costume.
The motion capture here doesn’t translate to emotion capture – not just because the makers could afford only half the cameras or markers used for by James Cameron and Spielberg but also because those were filmmakers with at least 30 years of experience in staging spectacles based on human drama, aided by the best cinematographers (Oscar winning Janusz Kaminski for Tintin and Mauro Fiore for Avatar) and producers with pockets deep enough to invent technology.
At the helm of Kochadaiiyaan is a barely-30 year old filmmaker making her official debut (after a shelved film) and NO director of photography. There are better ways to commit professional suicide.
But luckily for the ambitious young filmmaker, the film has already grossed 42 crores in its opening weekend, riding on brand Rajini. She just might get to make another film and I hope she does but may she have the wisdom to take professional help the next time around.
Criticism for the form aside, Kochadaiiyaan does not fare too badly in terms of content because this is material written by the Superstar’s trusted old-hand K.S. Ravikumar, who has his pulse on what the fans expect from Rajinikanth.
So the formula is recycled and quite effectively except for one blaring Rajini-myth-defying error – a self-righteous king who preaches to his enemies to NOT attack from behind ends up with a son who attempts to seek revenge twice through TREACHERY. Superstar will NEVER stab from the back, even if he has to settle a score. This is blasphemy and it robs the film of the Rajini charm. Maybe a weaker hero would resort to that kind of stuff. And this is the mid portion of the film that makes Kochadaiiyaan quite hollow.
Now, to the good news. It has a fantastic beginning – a hero introduction that does the Superstar all justice and a prologue that sets the stage for the epic story. Rana is a war hero who leads from the front and reunites the slaves of his erstwhile kingdom with their families (until the pre-interval twist reveals that he resorted to treachery). There’s a song post interval that slows things down further simply because the quality of animation is not strong enough to make us invest in the emotion-heavy scenes but once the flashback of Kochadaiiyaan kicks in, the film picks up furious pace and the punch lines keep the momentum going. There’s quite a bit of action and drama to sustain our interest till the end and most of this works because by now, we have got used to the inconsistencies of the animation. Also, it helps that we hear A.R. Rahman or Rajinikanth at their best, rising above the limitations of the storytelling.
The sequel set-up comes a little out of the left field but we could expect K.S.Ravikumar to fill in the blanks in the next episode and answer the basic questions. Like what on the planet was the other son doing all through Episode 1?
Loyalty to the state versus family is no doubt an interesting conflict but the first part has barely touched the tip of that iceberg. I would surely line up to buy tickets for the sequel because all said and done, Kochadaiiyaan is not a bad film at all, irrespective of the context and circumstances under which it was made.
It was believed that Superstar may never be able to act again, after he was critical and hospitalised. To actually get out of bed and act again, to take on technology you are not used to with the sincerity of a debutant, to follow the directions of another debutant and attempt something like this when the market is dissuading you from dabbling with animation, demands some amount of our respect.
We have now seen what the technology can do. This was a film made out of Superstar shooting for just five days. It brought the late legendary comedian Nagesh to life. This is technology that has the potential to immortalise our favourite stars even if their expressions seem a little too dead and robotic right now.
It is the birth of a new form of storytelling, even if hasn’t learnt to walk yet. And one that has successfully sold itself to the people in spite of its latent limitations and market mood.
Kochadaiiyaan deserves a chance and a viewing with an open mind. I found myself enjoying the film the second time around because I had already come to terms with the technical aspects of the film. Kids are more forgiving. They may actually like this a lot more than us grown ups who love to find faults, especially, if the makers set themselves up to fail with unrealistic Tintin and Avatar comparisons.
Don’t listen to the critics from the North. There’s a lot that’s clearly been lost in translation. Simply because you just can’t base your verdict on Dunston Checks In from people who have watched Ek Bandar Hotel Ke Andhar.
My dear friend and the most hated man online Rediff critic Raja Sen who called Kochadaiiyaan a bad puppet show has these counter arguments.
1) Growing up, the thing about Amar Chitra Katha was that it was consistently fascinating. Not only was it well illustrated, but the storytelling breakdown was quite sensational — never a dull moment. Which isn’t what you can say about this film where every other moment is followed by a song. You think the Pixar generation of children is going to sit through these songs? They’ll leave. Or make their parents buy them Iron Man action figures for making them sit through this.
2) You say children are more forgiving. Balderdash, my friend. Children are tremendously demanding, which is why the most successful children’s films are always the most universally loved among adults (and critics) as well. For every Chhota Bheem — which has managed to successfully find and connect with an audience — there are hundreds of Indian animation attempts that have crashed and burned.
3) The whole Dunston Checks In / Ek Bandar… analogy is misplaced here, considering that this is not just a Tamil film dubbed into Hindi, like Sivaji was. In Bombay theatres, Kochadaiiyaan has been promoted as a massive Hindi release — massive because Rajini himself has dubbed for it, apparently doing so after ages. If a lot has indeed been lost in translation (as I’m sure it has), far more care should have been taken to make sure it holds its own in Hindi. Either that or it should have released with subtitles.
4) Any actor going through serious hospitalisation is a grave thing, and while I’m glad Rajni has bounced back — and has indeed done well here, vocally — that can’t be a criteria on which we judge the film. Just because we haven’t done mocap before on this scale as a nation doesn’t mean we start calling this laudable. (Does this mean we need to go back and celebrate Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘visionary’ RaOne as well?)
5) Finally, if we’re to make allowances based on the fact that the budgets are much lesser than the west, then we as test-audiences — because that’s what we are, clearly — should be fed these films with much lesser ticket prices, NOT what we pay for Avatar or The LEGO Movie.
6) An animated film has to be different from regular movies. This is like Roadside Romeo, that canine Saif Ali Khan film which could have been a live-action film. This could have been any Rajni period epic…. so why animation? I don’t think the North Indian critics have judged it purely on the quality of the animation (then they could have reviewed it after sitting through ten tacky minutes) but every one of us has been disappointed by the lack of originality and freshness in the storytelling. Imagine a Ghajini cartoon. Or even Coolie. There’s no point, is there?