Fri
Oct 8 2010 5:14pm
Review: Enthiran (“The Robot”)

 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.


Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to nytheatre.com and Premiere.com.

9 comments
Jason Henninger
1. jasonhenninger
Aishwarya Rai and a robot... how entirely fabulous. Thank you for letting me know about this!
Jaymee Goh
2. Jha
So this movie IS getting an international release? Where is it playing, everywhere? Or just select theatres? How are the subtitles, or is it dubbed? I'm too psyched thinking about this movie. The trailer looked stupendous.
Danny Bowes
3. DannyBowes
It's playing in one theater in New York in what I believe is an exclusive engagement. When that ends, it might get a slightly wider US distribution (there was a nice piece about it in Variety today, which should help).
Stefan Jones
4. Stefan Jones
Well, this is odd.

It is playing in Cornelius, a rather distant suburb of Portland, OR. Another Bollywood movie is playing in the same metroplex this weekend.

I guess there's a big Indian community out there.

I'm strongly considering going. It has an afternoon showing tomorrow.

Thanks!
Stefan Jones
5. Filmi Girl
Excellent review!! Thank you for taking the film seriously on its own terms. :)

You might be interested to know that the screenplay is actually by a Tamil sci-fi author and the two collaborated on another pretty crazy film called Anniyan.
Stefan Jones
6. hapax
alas, there is no imaginable way this film will be released in the boonies where I live. I shall have to await the Blu-ray.

:-(
Stefan Jones
7. Stefan Jones
Saw it this afternoon!

The theater, a multiplex in the far suburbs, charged $15.00 for the 2:10 pm showing, a price that didn't deter a couple hundred Indian folks from showing up. Young, old, kids. A fair number of them, enthusiastically cheered and whistled when the stars made their appearance.

This was one dang long movie. As with the other "bollywood" movies I'd seen, bordering on too long. And they put in a really long intermission. An almost unheard of thing these days. (The showing of "3 Idiots" I saw last year had a spot for an intermission, but they didn't actually use it.)

The SF element is really kind of old school. The basic plot could have come from a 1970s B-movie. Heck, like Avatar, you could find bits of pieces of the plot in other movies and TV shows. But Enthiran definitely deserves props for ingenuity. The mosquito scene is over the top crazy and utterly original, and the heroe's robot-hacking during the final combat scenes adds a nice contemporary touch.

P.S. I really feel for folks who live in areas that don't show movies like this. "3 Idiots," mentioned above, is still very hard to get on DVD. Hopefully NetFlix can supply.
Jenny Thrash
8. Sihaya
Stefan, Netflix does show that it's got 3 Idiots available to ship (not on streaming).
Stefan Jones
9. Madhusudhan
This is a very nice review. I agree with most of it having seen the movie one and half times. The half was from trying to take my 18 month old son to it, who promptly bawled his head off when he saw the evil robots built by the villainous Bora. Clearly children know evil ;)
The move played in almost all the major cities in the US, just have to ask your Indian friends for the info. I've been to two different halls in San Diego showing it but I believe it's been taken off since. 
To answer another question, as a native speaker of the language of the version you've got to watch (Enthiran is the original, tamil version. The hindi and telugu versions are dubbed from tamil), the subtitles were actually quite passable. All of us know that subtitles never deliver the full impact of dialogue, so it may be better to watch it in an actual movie theatre with native speakers of the language so you can feed off cues from the audience. Also, if you don't understand the fuss behind some of Rajni's dialogues, it is because he's the superstar :) Tamil cinema often likes to deliberately invite viewers to draw links between the movie they're watching and earlier movies from the same stars. So often a joke in one movie will be better understood by people who've watched the other movies.  Nice marketing ploy but might leave foreign audiences scratching their heads!
I'm normally never sure about recommending an Indian movies to my American friends, because I can never guess how they'd react to scenes. However, Enthiran is one movie anyone can watch. Make sure you take your kids to it.

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