VOD Review: Enthiran (Robot).
Bollywood’s big budget robot flick can’t decide if it wants to be Short Circuit or The Terminator, and results in a wildly inconsistent film.
This weekend the most expensive Bollywood movie ever made is coming to a theater near me. It is the sequel to one of the highest grossing Indian films of all time, Enthiran (Robot in English.) It is schizophrenic science fiction tale that blends elements from Frankenstein, Pinocchio, and Short Circuit with a Schwarzenegger action flick’s weight in bullets and explosions. I can see why the copious amounts of CG and “Hollywood style” action impressed Indian viewers in 2010. If Baahubali was India’s answer to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, Enthiran was its answer to The Matrix. Or at least the Matrix sequels…cause this movie is all over the place quality-wise!
Enthiran (Robot) (2010).
Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is a brilliant scientist who has completed his life’s work: an artificial being with the consciousness of a man and the power of a machine. The robot, named Chitti (Rajinikanth again) is a perfect helpmate for Vaseegaran and his fiancé, Sana (Aishwarya Rai), but lacks the discernment between right and wrong a human learns as a child. This flaw makes him dangerous in the opinion of Vaseegaran’s peers. As Sana and Vaseegaran struggle to teach Chitti, they make a breakthrough program that enables Chitti to learn emotions. Unfortunately, his first emotions are anger at Vaseegaran and love for Sana. Rebuffed by both, he sabotages the doctor’s experiments, leading to a falling out. A rival of Vaseegaran takes in Chitti and gives him another program: aggression. Chitti kidnaps Sana and uses the doctor’s lab to mass produce an army of himself. Vaseegaran is given one chance to get to his creation and remove the bad programming before the army storms the lab.
The baseline story of Robot is perhaps not very original by now, but it does blend enough speculative A.I. plot lines together in interesting ways not to feel stale. It’s a tale as old as Frankenstein’s monster. I didn’t feel it was derivative since the component parts are juggled around to place emphasis on different elements than Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. The problem is that there is so much junk code inserted into Robot’s programming that you don’t get to really dwell on the story.
Bollywood movie’s tend to weld genres together as a rule. Your action flick is going to have a substantial romantic element, several musical numbers, and probably several subplots that may not really have anything to do with the main story. Given the wide range of cultures and languages Bollywod has to cater to, it’s understandable that they cast a wide net and get pretty broad with the stories. The best films make it all seem seamless, making each oar pull in a common direction. The typical Bollywood film does it poorly, feeling like three movies smashed together. Then you have Robot, which is having a full on schizophrenic episode.
The first hour has so many digressions that I despaired of ever getting back to the main story. The romantic scenes between Vassegaran and Sana are excruciating because they have no chemistry, and both are self-centered and petulant characters. It’s obviously there just to check a box and give the barest plausible reason to cut to a music video.
Yup, this is one of those Bollywood films where the musical numbers not only don’t feel like they are spontaneous but they actively look like a music video was copy pasted into the reel with little care as to narrative flow.
There are also hijinks with Vaseegaran’s friends who try to patch up his rocky relationship and rom-com wedding preparation skits that drag on glacially. It makes it that much more jarring when Chitti goes berserk and starts killing people.
Evil Chitti is like if Agent Smith absorbed The Terminator. He absolutely destroys the local police and the Indian Army in fairly graphic fashion. There’s no blood and guts, but there also isn’t the usual PG-13 coyness of not showing dead cops. These guys are all 100% grade-A dead meat, and the film seems to be positively gleeful in constructing ways in which Chitti can murder as many good guys as possible. He even uses his clones like Voltron to create a giant mega-Chitti that has an M-16 every two meters of its surface. The body count in Robot makes Rambo look like a pacifist.
The visual quality of Robot is about as good as you could ask for from a 2010 movie. The CG armies of Chitti clones looks a bit silly, but no sillier than the CG armies of Agent Smith clones in the final Matrix movies. As much as I hated them, the music videos are filmed in gorgeous HD with bright, vibrant colors and striking locations. The effects used to show Chitti’s robotics are fine, certainly better than the chintzy effects in Will Smith’s I Robot. All in all, it displays a professional and impressive use of cinematography that helped to prove that Bollywood was rapidly closing the tech gap with Hollywood action films.
Random Access Memory.
Robot is one of those movies that you remember as being better than it is. I saw most of it not too long after it came out and was impressed with the scope of the premise and the execution of the visuals. Re-watching it in anticipation of the long awaited sequel, I was aghast at how unwieldy the whole movie really is. Nothing flows naturally and the added junk really rips the heart out of what is a pretty solid science fiction story. Once you finally get back to the moral/philosophical problem at the center of the story, director S. Shankar decides to go crazy bananas with a truly ludicrous action finalé.
I was agog. I’d seen the Wachowski‘s piss away a good trilogy with a similar CG explosion, but Robot seemed determined to outdo Matrix Revolutions in every way possible. Fortunately, it pulls back from the precipice at the last second to give a surprisingly sincere conclusion. It’s that ending that makes me keenly interested in the sequel…and to be honest, the chance that the sequel will be even more deranged than the original!