Note: I watched the Hindi version of the film with English subtitles.
Fantasy is a genre rarely explored in Bollywood, especially films of the sword-and-sorcery variety. Kochadaiiyaan (“The King with a Long, Curly Mane“) fills that void, incorporating grand, mythical elements into an animated historical adventure.
However, the film’s story is undermined by director Soundarya R. Ashwin’s and writer K. S. Ravikumar’s fixation on plot twists. Instead of telling the story in a linear fashion, Ashwin and Ravikumar throw in a twist every half-hour or so, revealing that what appeared to be the truth was a lie. Wait another half-hour, and the truth is again turned on its head.
The twists aren’t well-designed. There’s no feeling of inevitability to them. They confuse more than they illuminate. Instead of inspiring an “Ah ha!” reaction, the only response is, “Huh?”
The story revolves around a strategic military genius named Rana (voiced and played by Rajinikanth in motion capture before being rendered on screen). The plot jumps between Rana’s rise to power in the kingdom of Kalingapuri, his return to his homeland of Kottaipattinam, and his recollections of his father, another great military strategist called Kochadaiiyaan (also played by Rajinikanth).
Sadly, Kochadaiiyaan isn’t a self-contained story, but rather a set-up for a sequel. Its incomplete ending is abrupt and frustrating.
Much was made in the promotion of the film regarding the advanced (for India) technology used in the animation. Had expectations been downplayed, perhaps the quality of the animation wouldn’t seem so disappointing. Even using motion capture, the animation looks no better than an early PlayStation 2-era video game cutscene.
Figure movement is the film’s biggest visual flaw. Fluidity of movement is hit-or-miss when it comes to the human characters, which is a huge problem in the movie’s many dance numbers (though some numbers fare better than others). On a related note, A. R. Rahman’s soundtrack is stirring, but not replete with hit singles.
An even bigger problem with the animation is the jerky movement of the film’s animals. Epic battle scenes become laughable with one glance at the arthritic horses “galloping” into war.
Character renderings also vary in degrees of quality. Rajinikanth is recognizable, his hairstyle changing to suit his multiple characters. Rana’s love interest, Vadhana Devi, looks more like Juhi Chawla than the actress who voiced her, Deepika Padukone.
Director Ashwin’s best use of animation is in giving a grand scale to Kochadaiiyaan‘s environments. Buildings are larger, battlefields more vast, and background characters more plentiful than most live-action film budgets could accommodate.
As for the acting in the film, it’s hard to judge, given the shortcomings of the animation. One tic that grows funnier over time is the characters’ penchant for stating the full name of the kingdom “Kottaipattinam.” I’d love to see a video compilation of every time a character says it, because it would probably include a hundred clips and run about five minutes long.