Friday, March 15, 2013

Enthiran Movie Review

A couple of years ago I saw a YouTube video about some crazy action scenes from a movie made in India. Several segments looked like they were trying to imitate visual effects from a number of big budget American movies. Recently I found the movie where these clips were from. It seems to have two titles depending on the language version; Enthiran (2010) if the language is Tamil or Robot when it is in Hindi.
Dr. Vasi (Rajnikanth) invents a super-powerful robot in his own image named Chitti (also played by Rajnikanth). The Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Institute (AIRD), the scientific body that must approve the robot, declines it based on its not having emotions and the ability to make rational judgment. A spontaneous bolt of lightning that hits Chitti evokes emotions in the robot, and he is seemingly ready for integration into the human world. But Chitti falls in love with Dr. Vasi's fiancée, Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), and turns on his creator. Vasi's mentor, Dr. Bohra (Danny Denzongpa), has been trying for years to construct a functional robot for military purposes. After Vasi's success with Chitti, Bohra seeks out Chitti to turn him into a killing machine.
  Before I get into the review, I have to make a disclaimer. I'm not well-versed in Indian cinema; I don't think I've seen an entire Bollywood movie before Enthiran. I also don't speak Tamil, so I had to watch a subtitled copy of Enthiran and it didn't display the most nuanced grasp of the English language. I therefore don't feel like I have grounds to criticize the dialogue as I'm sure things have been lost in translation.
Enthiran is more than a wacky viral video, it's the most expensive and highest grossing film in Indian history. This is like the Avatar of Indian Cinema. There are tons of practical special effects and CGI animation, the likes of which have not been seen in Indian cinema before. Enthiran has a star-studded cast; Rajnikanth is often billed in his movies as "SUPERSTAR Rajni," and is the second highest paid actor in Asia after Jackie Chan. Aishwarya Rai is a former Miss India and Miss World pageant winner, and is often credited to be "most beautiful woman in the world." Enthiran is a big deal, yet Western audiences will primarily be familiar with it through a 10-minute YouTube clip that they chuckled at and forgot about.
The CGI and special effects are impressive on the one hand, but still looks a bit like the quality of CGI work that appears in a direct to DVD movie here in the United States. They also seem to try to mimic some American movie effects. Before his "skin" is put on, Chitti resembles the robots in I, Robot. There are dozens of identical robots swarming in attack similar to Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded. There's an exciting train fight scene similar to the one in Spider-Man 2. Chitti gets shot in the eye, imitating Schwarzenegger's iconic Terminator look. There's some subtle nods to The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man effects, and even a big Transformers type giant robot attack. These are the types of over-the-top action scenes that were showcased in the YouTube video, but I can assure you that seeing Enthiran in its entirety gives it a lot more context and credibility within its world setting. If nothing else, seeing the whole movie will give you some more CGI craziness to enjoy.
There's going to be a lot of cultural gaps between Indian and American cinema that's going to give Western viewers a sense of scurrility when watching Enthiran. The movie focuses a whole lot in the chaste romance between Vasi and Sana. It was almost weird seeing such chastity between romantic partners in a big movie like this; even the villain was intent on marrying Sana before daring to have sex with her. There's a scene where Chitti rescues a young woman from a burning building. She's naked from taking a bath and her body is blurred out. For some reason having your life saved while not fully dressed is deeply shameful. I didn't understand that; yeah, I'd rather have clothes on, but I'd be more concerned about dying. It's just an example of cultural gaps that didn't quite make sense to me.
Another part of Enthiran that I thought was surreal was the periodic music video breaks. When I was in theater we did a Broadway musical once and had an Indian man in the audience. He thought it was unusual to have the characters break into song while remaining in character. He explained to us that in Indian theater (and I have to assume movies by extension) the actors go out of character to sing, get back into character, and continue with the story. There were about three or four points during Enthiran where the story simply stops and suddenly Rajinikanth and Rai are in a completely different location  and they are dancing and singing about love and romance. That scene ends and we return to the story. They act like music video segues but the songs are only loosely related to what's happening in the story. They drag on for at least five minutes and really disrupt the pacing of the movie. They are really neat to watch, though; they feature beautiful cinematography, sets, and music. I have yet to hear contemporary Indian music that I don't enjoy.
Enthiran is a very long movie, about three hours. This is pretty normal for Indian movies, but if you don't take a break and pause during the intermission, your butt will be asleep well before the end credits. There is so much crammed into Enthiran that chances are you will find something to enjoy, be it the glitzy music videos, the over the top action, special effects, or the out of sorts Three Stooges-style slapstick humor. There's certainly some weird scenes, like when Chitti has a conversation with a mosquito, and the movie sets itself up for sarcastic quips and riffing. If you don't particularly enjoy foreign films, I'd stay away from this one. It's lengthy, somewhat demanding (in keeping up with subtitles), and has a modest pay-off. If you do enjoy Bollywood films, elaborate costumes and dance numbers, killer robots, and physical humor gags, Enthiran is something not to be missed.

Here's the YouTube clip so you can see some of the over the top action sequences:

What's the strangest foreign film you've ever seen? Was it still good? Comment below and tell me all about it!

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