Twenty years later, the robotic avatar of Superstar is dismantled and kept in a museum. When a school kid on excursion wants to know why, the robot answers: “Naan Sinthikka Arambichitten” (“I started thinking”)
We can say the same for the changing mindset of the increasingly discerning audience.
Also, the man does not have the agility he once had but makes up with grace as he tries flipping his sunglasses realising he can’t do them right anymore before placing them on Robot – his Avatar, his creation. In many ways, the Robot is a metaphor for Rajnikant’s legacy – he has always executed tasks expected out of him as a superhero, no matter how impossible and ridiculous they sound on paper with great amount of earnestness. Simply because that’s what his creators – the fans – want.
And Shankar is smart enough to realise that and he gives us back the Rajnikant of yore, the guy who wasn’t scared to play the man who runs away from a fight or even the villain – Rajnikant, the actor – in India’s best attempt ever in crafting a legitimate sci-fi action spectacle.
We aren’t talking about superhero cock-and-bull here. Not Krissh, not Koi Mil Gaya, not Prince. We are talking about hardcore science fiction rooted in consequences of a scientific possibility of the near or distant future.
What makes the task of an Indian sci-fi filmmaker doubly difficult is that unlike Hollywood films that stick to a specialised genre with focus, people here expect a wholesome blend of various genres – romance, comedy, thriller, musical, action, adventure, in addition to science fiction – all in one movie. Now, imagine the expectations if this also needs to be a Rajnikant film?
Obviously, sci-fi fans are not wholly satisfied.
“In terms of special effects, it was a giant leap for Indian cinema. We haven’t seen special effects like this in our films… certainly not like the last 20 minutes in Enthiran,” swears Sandeep Makam, a movie geek who also runs an ad agency. “The flip side is that it is predictable science fiction. When you watch Star Wars or The Matrix, you don’t see what’s coming.”
While Hollywood films keep their focus on the sci-fi narrative, Shankar has taken a sci-fi plot, moulded it within the trappings of his already complex mixed masala genre. The end product is a fascinating blend – Enthiran is simultaneously a superhero film, a sci-fi adventure, a triangular love story with a hint of the Ramayana (the villain even compares the abducted heroine Sana to Sita) and the message movie Shankar is known to churn out.
Movie buff Naveen Varadarajan, a budding cinematographer who recently trained for 3D in Hollywood, blown by the visual effects is willing to ignore the predictability. “You may be able to find faults with the script but not the visual effects. The effects in Enthiran are not LIKE a Hollywood film, they ARE as good as Hollywood does them,” says Naveen.
That is true. At no point does the film look like a cheap imitation. Either Shankar or the late Sujatha or probably the art director Sabu Cyril must be a Star Wars fan to begin the movie with a very similar visual for a opening scene. Two robots – a tall one and a short fat one, called C3PO and R2D2 respectively – in a passage way. But the similarity ends there, the robots are running for cover in A New Hope and in Enthiran, they are bringing flowers to the scientist busy giving the final touches to his obsession. Probably as a tongue in cheek tribute, scientist Vaseegaran calls one R2. Later in the course of ‘Arima Arima,’ Superstar weilds a lightsaber.
The film is replete with touches and influences from many sci-fi films.
As Vijay Venkataramanan, a film editor and post production specialist, observes cryptically, “In the 1930s, “Frankenstein” got together with “King Kong” and had a baby. Many years later, that baby got together with “The Terminator” and made another baby. A decade later this baby got together with “Bicentennial Man” and had yet another baby called “Enthiran”. The lineage is not to be taken lightly!”
The Terminator reference is more than obvious. Not just visually – where we see the Superstar with one human eye and one scarred metallic eye but also intentionally spelt out when the bad robot announces that he has created “Terminators”.
Given the geek community’s exposure to Hollywood’s big budget sci-fi entertainers, technology-savvy movie buffs like social media guru Kiruba had very low expectations. “Honestly when I first heard about Enthiran, I expected hotch potch, low grade work. After all, I hadn’t seen any Tamil movie with effects that came close to Hollywood. Enthiran completely and totally beat my expectations,” admits Kiruba.
A lot of this has to do with Shankar’s narrative structure that first educates the audience about the genre by showcasing potential of robotic technology in its robot-as-superhero first act before going on to show us its destructive application that could wreck havoc on our lives – the form only substantiating the content.
Shankar is clever enough to use every opportunity to plug his “Issued in public interest” messages into the robot-as-superhero first act of the film. Sample: A train passenger about to spit paan gets stamped on his face, Hooligans blasting devotional music over permissible noise levels get to see Superstar in his avatar as Kali, the destroyer and men who sexually harass women, across different strata of society and different nationalities, will get a taste of the Robot’s newly acquired martial arts. The filmmaker also spends quite a bit of the first act simplifying computer-based concepts for the mass. (See box below).
The robot-as-human-in-love second act is where the screenplay loosens up a little and gets into escapist fantasy mode, the songs only slowing down the narrative further. This is the most torturous part of the film – silly comic gag that waters down the sci fi quotient and then Superstar running away from a fight.
Despite going all out to make the source of the Robot’s superpower plausible (electro-magnetic energy), Shankar packs up all that tightly-reined-in logic for a silly comedy scene that not just sticks out as a sore thumb in any sci-fi film that demands to be taken seriously but also reduces Rajnikant to a silly Chuck Norris joke (To add to all those ones that North Indians have been circulating around, now Rajnikant can also make a mosquito apologise.)
But thankfully, the Robot-as-supervillain third act of Enthiran more than makes up for the lost time unleashing multiple Rajnikants (like Agent Smiths in The Matrix), making you root for the badass robot Chitti Version 2 whose overpowering style and flamboyant presence prove no match for the hero. (We must forget that horrendous, juvenile 2.0 rap if we need to respect Rahman’s rich, grand thriller score.)
The protagonist is left in the lurch, failing again and again in every single attempt to outsmart the robot and that’s probably the message of the film – that man may never be able to beat the machine if artificial intelligence is equipped with the ability to think and want.
But this is not the Rajnikant we are used to seeing – he gets flung on to the top of the chandelier, gets busted by the villain after infiltrating his den, his attempts to send worms are met with deworming commands and it’s just a De-Magnetise command that helps him save the day. The world saving act in a Rajnikant film turns out to be a simple geeky gesture!
And that’s the part we need to embrace with mixed feelings. Enthiran isn’t the conventional Superstar film.
Superstar has dismantled his image. For we have started thinking.
What type of a robot is Chitti? A humanoid
What can he do? Execute commands based on artificial intelligence. He scans, processes, replicates and transmits
What are his limitations? Interprets commands literally. It’s an inference engine.
How can it fight? It’s programmed for combat and military applications.
How can it exactly help the military? Applications like Mine-Sweeper saves human life.
How does it fly? It cannot. It can merely use its Electro magnetic force to attract itself to metallic objects.
How can it be taught to feel human emotions? Extensive qualitative inputs on social practices, human behaviour and needs, literature on philosophy, etc.