Another year, another screening of National Awards winning films at Siri Fort auditorium in Delhi, and another special-effects award going to a big-budget Rajnikant film directed by S. Shankar: Enthiran.
Hassath and I weren't able to watch it when it was released last year, and welcomed this opportunity to continue my stunted education in Tamil cinema. Despite having more than twice the budget of Sivaji, however, Enthiran does not live up to that standard. Sivaji was set in an instantly recognisable place and time, with real social concerns underlying the action. Enthiran is set in an ambiguous future, and takes a humanoid robot "with feelings" through the same tired cycle of creation, awareness, competition, corruption, and redemption that any sci-fi fan could predict in their teens.
As the good Dr. Vaseegaran, Rajnikant doesn't have much to do—his most adventurous acts are to program a "worm" to demagnetise the robots and later to extract a "red chip" (which looks like a Doom 2 keycard) from the robot to render it harmless. As the robot, he tackles some "I will only do exactly as you say" situations, and goes on a special-effects rampage through Chennai. Thin fare indeed for a larger-than-life hero like Rajnikant, but he handles it with his usual aplomb. He is at home as a force for either good or evil; as a triumphant scientist or a resentful robot thwarted in love.
The film is not without its thoroughly enjoyable moments of absurdity, including a memorable scene in which the robot has a conversation with the mosquitoes of Chennai. Where Sivaji was full of Rajnikant in-jokes, Enthiran has little tips of the hat to other films, from the borg cube in the opening titles transforming into a Matrix-like green screen, to the Mask-inspired scenes later in the film.
But no amount of humour, not even the lightsaber scene, can rescue the film from its heroine, Aishwarya Rai. One has to watch the other actors carefully to figure out what she's feeling, because she sports the same expression of wide-eyed consternation throughout the film. Seeing her as a fembot "rapper girl" in one of the songs (also quite disappointing, unlike the catchy songs in Sivaji) was so disturbing that one couldn't help but applaud the Chennai cops when they raked the robot's getaway Mercedes with submachine-gun fire, unmindful of the heroine's presence beside him (well, it's true she wasn't wearing a seatbelt).
The one bright spark in the film is Danny Denzongpa as the evil Dr. Bohra. Even as an urbane academic, he radiates menace and intelligence, and brings alive a relatively minor supporting role equipped with only the weak dialogues the script allows him. Another performance that deserves mention is the cameo by Kalabhavan Mani as Pachaimuthu, a vettukathi-wielding yokel who is easily adopted as a boyfriend "for the day" by the ditzy Aishwarya, but not so easily gotten rid of.
Did I enjoy watching Enthiran? Yes. Do I want to commit suicide and donate my kidney to Rajnikant? No thanks.
Hassath sat through the whole day's screenings at Siri Fort, but Ammu and I joined her at 1600. We sneaked into the auditorium early, to get seats for the Enthiran screening at 1700, and caught the tail end of Aadukalam, which looked like an outstanding film (and won six awards, including best director, best actor, best screenplay, and best editing).
I think I'll try to find a copy and watch all of it.