Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Enthiran (The Robot)

I usually start talking about Indian movies by mentioning that I only tend to go to ones that have some other hook for me, but then I did see Rann earlier this year. Still, aside from that one cable news melodrama, I've basically seen Indian movies with aliens (Koi...Mil Gaya), superheroes (Krrish), and kung fu (Chandni Chowk to China). This one's got robots and the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai (now credited as "Aishwarya Rai Bachchan" as a cruel reminder that she is married and off the market), so why not?

Well, the price, for one. I dropped $21 on this ticket at the box office; it actually would have cost less online ($18 + $1 service fee for today's screenings), unless they jack the price on weekends, which would be pretty good business. That is a pricey movie ticket - in contrast, the Saturday night 3-D ticket I bought at AMC Boston Common later that day was $14.50, and I think adding IMAX would have only bumped it a dollar or two. Granted, Enthiran is right up on three hours while many standard movies are something like half to two-thirds of that. I suspect that none of that goes to the theater, either, with Entertainment Cinemas getting a booking fee for a screen at their Fresh Pond plex and whatever they make on popcorn and soda (or maybe they do take a chunk of ticket sales, and that's why the price is so high). The one screen that shows Indian films (which aren't even listed on the marquee) seems to be a big part of their business, though, just from how many standees and posters in the lobby promote Hollywood fare and how much Indian movies.

(One looks at the way Indian movies have been chugging along, opening day-and-date around the world for years now, charging prices well above the ones that make folks shriek about how it's much better/cheaper just to stay home and watch TV or 3-D is a rip-off [and as I'll get to in a minute, this isn't just dating couples - this brings out whole families], and wonders what the heck they're doing that other niche groups can't figure out. I know South Korea's CJ is making cautious movements in this direction, opening a cinema in Los Angeles to play Korean films, and Viz has a spot in San Francisco. Maybe they've got long-term plans to expand east, reaching Boston sometime in 2019. Still, you'd think other groups, like the ones who got hurt trying to put Hatchet II out a couple weeks ago, would be able to figure out a combination of savvy, targeted booking, marketing, and risk-sharing, as there's ample evidence that it could be done.)

But, anyway, back to this moviegoing experience. I believe most of my previous visits to Indian films have been evening shows - once at "Bombay Cinemas" in Allston, now a Staples; twice at the Arlington Capitol; and a matinee at a deserted Stuart Street Playhouse for Rann - and none of them have been Tamil films, which I read are a little bit on the weird side, even for India. So I wasn't quite prepared for just how many kids were there - indeed, a lot of really little kids considering that this was a three hour movie. This is part of what makes showing these films a successful business - they are generally kid-friendly and thus a good way for families to do something together even if one or more members has a little trouble with their English. It does mean that you almost certainly are going to have to accept that there will be kids in the aisles at some point, or that some member of the nice family of four that didn't ask you to move over is going to need a trip to the restroom at some point.

The other thing I didn't realize is that the movie's star, "Rajini", either really, incredibly, super-popular, or the subject of some sort of ironic joke which I, the one white dude in the audience, was not familiar with. Because after the regular studio and production vanity cards, there was a truly ostentatious one, spelling out "SUPER STAR RAJINI" in big bold letters with full surround sound. And the crowd went berserk over it. As they did when he first turned and showed his face as Vasi, and again when Chitti had been skinned to share the same face (if we've learned anything from the movies, it's that any scientist developing a lifelike android is an incredible egomaniac). He'd get random, huge applause at other times, too, despite the fact that he's a bit past his prime and didn't seem to be dripping charisma to me (he often seems old-guy-stiff, rather than robot-stiff, as Chitti). Meanwhile, Aishwarya Rai, internationally famous Bollywood star who has regularly been lauded as the most beautiful woman in the world - and I've seldom seen anybody argue against that claim, even online - who enters the screen in slow motion the first few times she's shown, doesn't even get a tenth of that reception. I don't know whether it's a case of her popularity among her native audience not quite being up to her international reputation, or if Rajini is a particularly big deal to Tamil speakers.

Shows what I know, huh? But that is, actually, some of the fun about seeing Indian movies: You get to immerse yourself in a completely different film culture for a few hours, and the rules which you didn't even realize were rules don't apply.

Endhiran (The Robot)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 at Entertainment Cinemas Fresh Pond #3 (Indian Movies)

Enthiran is long, uneven, and like many films that attempt to be all things to all people, frequently comes off as a muddled, drawn-out mess. However, the thing about the Indian style of filmmaking - which seems to be based on the idea of giving audiences everything they might want in a movie in every movie, thus creating Frankenstein monsters like this three-hour musical sci-fi adventure romantic comedy - is that at some point, so long as the folks involved are relatively capable, the filmmaker will either hit on something he does well or will combine things in a way that creates something as new and exciting as it is bizarre. That's what Endhiran is - a mess, but one with some occasional truly inspired lunacy.

As the film opens, Dr. "Vasi" Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is hard at work on his latest creation, so hard at work that his medical student girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is feeling neglected. Eventually he succeeds at creating this humanoid robot (and because the scientists who build these things are egomaniacs, he gives it a face to match his own), names it "Chitti", and begins training it so that the Artificial Intelligence Research & Development center can certify it for military work. However, AIRD is run by Vasi's old teacher, Dr. Bhora (Danny Denzongpa), whose own work on the subject has not borne fruit, and he posits that Chitti is flawed for lacking human emotion. So Vasi starts working on that - although, let me say, when you've got a girlfriend who looks like Sana, your incredibly powerful robot developing human emotions could lead to some predictable problems.

Endhiran was a longtime pet project for writer/director Shankar (like many involved in the production, he's a big enough deal to be credited with just the one name), and in realizing it, he's made the most expensive film yet produced in India. The money certainly shows up on screen: Not only does the film star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rajinikanth (so popular that his animated "Superstar Rajini" logo dwarfs those of the studio and production company), but their fantasy music sequences are shot in Peru and other far-off lands. Several visual effects companies from Asia to America are brought in to do extensive digital and animatronic work, and while one or two bits of work disappoint, most looks good, and the extensive compositing is seamless. Folks from Hollywood are brought in to work on production and costume design, and Hong Kong's Yuen Woo-ping works on action choreography. The music by frequent Shankar collaborator A.R. Rahman is catchy, and some of the musical production numbers are very well done indeed.

Full review at EFC.


Anonymous said...

Nice review. Rajini is indeed a big star in India and especially in the state of Tamil Nadu. He has been the superstar for the past 30 years. He is known for his honesty, integrity, simplicity and down to earth personality. Political parties that he supported have won elections. The reason for his success is mainly due to his next door looks which people identify with.
And yeah Shankar is big deal too. All his movies so far are blockbusters. But the reason his name is displayed without a last name is because in the state of Tamil Nadu people usually don't have a last name and instead they have the initials of the first letter of their parent's name. E.g. S.Shankar.

Jason said...

Huh, learn something new every day. That's an arrangement that sounds like it could get really confusing in a country as populous as India, though.

And it is kind of amazing that Rajini is that popular; after I realized what that logo was, I was racking my brain to try and figure out who could get away with something similar in other territories (or merit it, without the grandiosity of the display contributing to a backlash). Maybe Tom Cruise, for a while, or Jack Nicholson, but past that, I'm stumped.

Stargazer said...

It was nice to read your blog on endhiran all the more because since you are not a tamil :) I happenned by your blog while searching on google for endhiran blogs... do read my blog if u find time at http://isthismalarkey.blogspot.com/

Modular Robots said...

oh, you are talking about Indian Movie "The Robot", its one of My Favorite Movies..

Thank you for post