Sunday, February 23, 2014

Robot Music Charms the Savage Robot

A man has a simple and pure desire to build an army of robot soldiers bearing his likeness but somehow people and emotions and mosquitoes inevitably stand in the way. This perhaps comes close to describing the runaway shopping cart of a premise belonging to 2010's Enthiran, a Bollywood musical homage (sort of) to Isaac Asimov. Asimov is name checked several times in one of musical numbers, anyway. This movie is a lot of fun, for the most part exhibiting a sequence of events heedless of formula or genre conventions. The climax of the film goes the wrong way but for all the silliness and weird logic the characters are genuinely engaging.

Bollywood legend Rajinikanth plays both the robot's creator, Dr. Vaseekaran, and the robot, Chitti.

Rajinikanth has been a star since the 70s and incredibly for this physically intensive role he was 61 years old when the movie was released. In addition of course to dancing the movie features several quite amazing action sequences.

This is from a scene on a trolley where Chitti saves Sana (Aishwarya Rai) from a gang rape. It's hard not to think of the widely publicised real life incident where a woman was gang raped on a trolley in Inda in 2012--two years after Enthiran was released. But of course it wasn't a crime without precedent. I felt here the film was attempting to reaffirm a social conscience by showing how a hero ought to act.

The movie, which had been pure romantic comedy with some cartoonish slapstick up to this point, may jar Western viewers with the abrupt shift in the seriousness of subject matter. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Vaseekaran takes Chitti to a military board of review hoping to sell the brass on manufacturing thousands of Chittis to replace India's human army. But the nefarious Dr. Bohra, Vaseekaran's mentor who sits on the committee, has been trying to develop his own robots to sell to the highest international bidders. He undermines Vaseekaran's demonstration by showing Chitti will stab Vaseekaran if ordered to. For some reason, instead of figuring the robot needs to be programmed with better recognition protocols, everyone figures this means Chitti needs to be given human emotions. This is reinforced when Chitti rescues several people from a burning building but rescues a woman from her bathtub, carrying her out to the waiting crowd without thinking to cover her nakedness. She immediately commits suicide by jumping in front of a bus and bizarrely everyone counts it as a murder perpetrated by Chitti.

Vaseekaran works day and night to give Chitti human emotion but has no success until Chitti is struck by lightning. I suspect this was meant to mollify some of the more conservative individuals in the audience.

Chitti proves his newfound sentience by delivering a baby which greatly impresses Sana, Vaseekaran's fiancée. Unfortunately, Chitti falls hopelessly in love with Sana. In my favourite scene, Chitti watches her sleeping at night from her window but rushes in when he sees a mosquito on her cheek. She wakes up, shocked to find him there. After he explains why he entered her room, he asks her to kiss him on the cheek like she did after he finished delivering the baby. She tells him that she kissed him before because he accomplished something great so he asks what he needs to accomplish in order to receive another kiss. She tells him to catch the mosquito.

Chitti pursues the insect to a community of mosquitoes and proceeds to have a dialogue with them. He demands they hand over the offending mosquito, they demand he provide them with AB blood and petition the government to make the mosquito the national bird. In a movie that keeps finding new left fields to pitch from this was the turn I absolutely adored. It's played without a trace of irony, it's just pure fairy tale which, for all the sci fi trappings, is really what the whole movie is.

Vaseekaran and Chitti enter a bitter rivalry for Sana's affections, presenting her with jewellery and dance numbers, until finally a confrontation takes place where Sana explains to a tearful Chitti that love between human and robot is impossible and not just because of the lack of a penis which Chitti alludes to and his inability to impregnate her. Sana tells him it's something that can't be put in words.

A surprisingly horrific scene follows after which there is the film's most curiously irrelevant musical number which brings Vaseekaran and Sana to what appears to be an Aztec temple.

The last act of the film features the misguided decision to put Chitti under the influence of an evil red chip. He slaughters hundreds of people and there is a really impressive car chase sequence as well as some of the film's most impressive musical numbers.

All of this is to veer away from the morally ambiguous direction the movie was heading in. Which is too bad. Personally, I think Sana would have been better off with the robot.

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