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Enthiran (The Robot)

This film devirginized me from my Bollywood virginity.

But just to be politically correct, this is technically a Kollywood film. Indian cinema is actually made up of Bollywood, or Hindi cinema, and Kollywood, or Tamil cinema. So just to be on the safe side, I'll just call them Indian movies.

I've never seen an Indian film before. (Slumdog Millionaire of course does not count.) Or at least I've never sat through one from start to finish. Just a few bits and pieces here and there. But this was the first Indian flick I've watched in its entirety.

So if you've never seen an Indian film before, this would be a great first movie to watch. It's directed by Shankar (I assume that like the Brazilians, the Indians use only one name once they reach superstar status), and is the top movie in India for 2010. It also happens to be the most expensive Indian flick ever made. Aside from the music being done by AR Rahman (who we all know is Indian), The Robot is the first Indian gig for costume designer Mary E. Vogt (who did the costumes for Men In Black), and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping (who choreographed The Matrix among a lot of other films).

"Welcome to Hong Kong cinema. Bitches."

And it also stars Indian superstar Rajnikanth playing dual roles.

In case the audience is left with any doubt, Rajni IS a super star.

Sure, it's almost three hours long. But one-third of that is all the singing and dancing. So it's roughly about two hours long. And as the title suggests, it's about a robot that gains sentience.

Pictured: Sentience.

And surprisingly, it also follows Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or the Second Law.
These laws are actually touched on, if not discussed to some level, during the entire course of the film.

Since I've never seen enough Bollywood Kollywood films to make a decent comparison, the following observations I've made may or may not apply to the Indian style of filmmaking as a whole.

1. The song and dance numbers can actually be deleted.
Yes, you heard me right. The musical numbers are merely extenders, and if you were to cut them out of the film, it would still make sense. That's because these numbers do not affect the flow of the narrative at all.

Here in The Robot, they have six musical numbers. And let me repeat that, save for maybe the second and fourth one, all of them have absolutely nothing to do with the narrative.

This first one is a daydream/fantasy. Dr. Vasee (played by Rajnikanth) is fantasizing about dancing with his lover Sana (played by Aishwarya Rai) on the banks of a lovely delta. In Brazil.
Watch the film and swallow this location in all its breathtaking beauty.

The second one takes place in a montage. This montage shows, among other things, how Chitti the robot (also played by Rajnikanth) is slowly learning to become human, and how he is learning to play practical jokes on his co-workers.
He also presumably teaches aerobics to old women.

The third musical number happens right after Chitti gets a kiss from Sana. The circuits in his brain suddenly erupt with blossoms of flowers, and then it slips into this fantasy dance number.
Not a Daft Punk music video.

The fourth one is not really a full musical number. It happens in Sana's birthday party, when Chitti and Sana hit the dance floor.
Stupid poses like this are common in Indian movies.

The fifth one happens after Dr. Vasee and Sana manage to outrun some goon who wants to club Sana on the head and drag her home. Again, this is a fantasy. And you know what's one place Indians fantasize about? Peru. What is it with Indians and South America?
Nothing says "South America" more than having a llama in the shot.

The last one is another fantasy, after Sana tries to seduce evil Chitti. And like the previous sexual fantasy video, this one has an electronica-vibe going on.
If you squint your eyes, the dancers look like P. Diddy.

I actually have no idea if these same actors also sing their own songs. If they do, good for them. India's definitely got talent.

2. Bumbling sidekicks come in pairs.
These are the two comic relief characters here: a dark-skinned one, and a fair-skinned, more Aryan-looking one.

"Hey, is that bhang you're smoking?"

Presumably they form a sort of balance. Maybe it's supposed to represent the rich and the poor classes of India working together to bring laughs to the viewers. Who knows.

3. I honestly believe there is a link between Indian and Philippine cinema.
I don't know in what way, exactly. But I can feel in my gut that there is a connection. The humor is very similar.

This type of slapstick is very Filipino.

Plus we also had our share of musical numbers in the eighties, such as Pik Pak Boom. Also, I remember seeing an Indian flick once, showing a sort of superhero flying through the air, and melting a statue using laser beams from his eyes. The special effects were crappy. Like Philippine special effects in the eighties-crappy. Here in The Robot, we have some good special effects (some of which were animatronic), but we also have some crappy ones (most of which were CGI). Which is precisely the trend in Philippine cinema now. So if anyone reading this is taking a master's degree in film, I give you permission to use this for your dissertation topic. Find the link between our two cinemas. But at least credit me with the idea.

And finally, did I mention that Rajnikanth is sixty years old? And yet he looks like this:

And he can still totally do stuff like this:

...got nothing on...
...this action sequence.

Aishwarya Rai, on the other hand is thirty-seven. And yet she looks like this:

She looks like she's in her twenties.

What is it in India that gives people this youthful glow?

Enthiran. India. 2010.

Rating: Eight out of ten.

*some info from IMDb
pics from VLC


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