The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell is the introductory shot in Lingaa for Rajini in his avatar as a collector and king in British India. The Super Star has a dual role and plays his own grandson too, in the modern era.
But all through the film, sometimes subtly and mostly upfront, Rajini, in his public persona as the supercool superstar, super human being, with the common touch and the heart of gold, keeps peeping out. Almost in every frame of the film there is Rajini and it is all about adding to the Rajini aura and mania.
So it is no surprise if Rajini jumps off a cliff overlooking a dam at superspeed on his bike, to land on a gas balloon that is carrying a nitrogen bomb, to save not just female bombshell Anushka, fight off villain-in-MP avatar Jagapathi Babu and knock off a third technician, but most importantly to stop the dam built by his grandfather from being blasted to pieces, so thousands of lives are saved. Nothing that is unbelievable is unacceptable. Those are the scenes where yeh dil maange more for Rajini's diehard fans.
And then there is that superhero who will spend his personal wealth to build a dam and give up his beautiful palace (shot in the real one at Mysore), along with all the splendour of gold and glitter, caskets of jewellery, and walks away without breathing a word about his sacrifices, all so that common people will live well. And then the punch about happiness being not a state of wealth but a state of mind and heart. That gets loud cheers too.
Several intended-punch dialogues, with multiple loaded references to real life, where Rajini claims he is grateful he always had the blessings and support of the people, that with his talent, he could be in Parliament, a CM or even PM, that he has not failed, only delayed his success, all appear as though targetted at the perennial speculation on whether he will or he won't enter politics.
You could suspect that all this cinematic buildup could be a stepping stone to a real-life arangetram into politics. Or it could all just be to keep the suspense alive and happening. Nothing succeeds like suspense.
For a film crafted and made ready-to-release in six months, many frames in the film look like a richly painted big canvas, quite a visual treat, with the beautiful Mysore palace and also sets mounted on a mega scale, animation and computer graphics.
The film makes no pretences about being a classic epic-in-the-making. It relies on the time-tested masala formula, selling the style quotient of an ageing but still much loved and revered superhero. But at 175 minutes, the film is a stretch.
Rajini referred in the audio release prior to the film that the technical crew had openly declared that it took a lot of effort to make the 60 plus star look young and good-looking. And that his biggest challenge was to romance young heroines Anushka and Sonakshi, who grew up the same age as his own daughters Aishwarya and Soundarya.
Music by AR Rahman is not really soul-stirring except the one that Rahman has himself voiced. Some frames in the song sequences remind you of scenes from earlier films. The Mona song with Anushka has a nice lilt. The set in the latter half reminds you in part of the Robot-Rajini's headquarters in Endiran. The romantic number with Sonakshi inside a palace has a definite resemblance to the duet with Shriya in Sivaji.
Santhanam shares screen space with Rajini in his modern avatar, almost like Vivek did in Sivaji. Popular Telugu comedian Brahmanandam comes and goes in one scene. Telugu hero Jagapathi Babu, who played the villain in the modern era, couldn't recreate the menacing evil-coolness of a Suman in Shivaji. The character didn't have too much scope. Afterall the film cover two eons with the villain in the bygone era, an evil-Britisher antagonist too reminds you of Lagaan, except the character looked too cardboard and not layered at all.
The makers of the film perhaps wanted to avoid controversy with a disclaimer that elephants used in the film are computer-generated; but it did not really look like that, so they must have done a really good job of it.
Whatever the reviews and critics say, no Rajini fan is going to miss this film for sure. For the rest, I would say, it is still a pleasant time-pass entertainment.
There is a classic icing on the cake for Rajini fans who got a return birthday gift in the form of Lingaa on the superstar's birthday. Birthday boy Rajini blows a candle and cuts a cake even as everyone sings Happy Birthday to him in the film.