Science fiction, at its best, is an illuminative enterprise. Any kind of speculative art is a portal into the mind of its creator, and since there has been so much science fiction since the inception of the genre modern science fiction often is less about the ideas than the way they are presented. Why, you ask, this high-handed (dare one say pretentious) musing on the nature of science fiction as a genre? Simple: to arrive at the point that the creators of the recent science fiction film Enthiran are crazy.
I’m not using that word as a pejorative by any means. Enthiran is gloriously out-of-its-mind science fiction. The ideas involved are not themselves novel; the idea of an artificial man turning on his creator goes back to Mary Shelley. Where Enthiran stays urgently fresh as entertainment is by employing the full arsenal of Indian popular cinema. Enthiran’s two leads are two of India’s biggest stars—the aptly named “Superstar” Rajinikanth as both scientist Vaseegaran and his robot creation Chitti, and Aishwarya Rai as Sana, the woman both Vaseegaran and Chitti are in love with. (Aishwarya Rai is, beyond any subjective debate, the most beautiful woman in the world.)
The story of how the robot, Chitti, becomes more human, and how that very humanity proves to be his own undoing, is a thoughtful look at what it actually means to be human. It’s also, when Chitti starts seeing Vaseegaran as a romantic rival for Sana, a reminder that humanity’s frailties and imperfections are safeguards against our anger and destructive impulses. The greatest danger, in a technological world, is our increasing capacity to destroy not only ourselves but everyone else in the world as well. When that capacity for destruction is enabled by irrational impulses, we are in great danger indeed.
The most impressive thing about Enthiran is that it manages to provide such savory food for thought in the middle of a wildly entertaining action story. Co-writer/director S. Shankar shoots action in a style that blends cartoons, live-action brawling, and slapstick comedy (frequently under-cranking his camera during the action scenes) and has equal facility with the obligatory dance numbers (scored by Oscar winner A.R. Rahman) in which his camera will absolutely, unequivocally cross all orientational boundaries and make you fall deeply in worshipful love with Aishwarya Rai.
It is not spoiling Enthiran at all to point out the two strangest scenes; these will either make you absolutely want to or absolutely not want to see the movie:
1.) When Chitti is reprogrammed to feel emotions—which, ironically, leads him to do the most logical possible thing and fall in love with Aishwarya Rai—he takes it upon himself to hunt down and capture the specific mosquito that bites his new love. This leads him to parley with several thousand mosquitoes, who briefly declare war on Chitti before surrendering their offending comrade, who apologizes to Aishwarya Rai. Yes, that is literally what happens in that scene.
2.) Toward the end, after Chitti is reprogrammed again, this time by Vaseegaran’s jealous, less-competent mentor for evil, after which he—in a very robotic maneuver—creates scores of copies of himself. This leads to, when the humans try to put an end to Chitti’s (pretty severe) wave of destruction, Chitti drawing upon Voltron, Agent Smith in the Matrix sequels, and Indian mythology to form a robot cobra made of dozens of Chitti avatars. The result—A ROBOT COBRA—is truly awesome, in both the new and old senses of the word.
Enthiran is highly recommended to anyone capable of joy. Rajinikanth turns in two excellent performances as both robot and creator, and there are simply no words to adequately describe Aishwarya Rai’s beauty and charisma; the word “goddess” gets tossed around a bit too often considering the implications of the term, but it is the only suitable one for her. With two so magically gifted movie stars, any movie would be watchable, but Enthiran is a wonderfully entertaining movie that seems half as long as its three-hour running time. See it as soon as you possibly can.