I've been missing out on some great Tamil films because for some reason the prints here rarely contain English subtitles, unlike the Hindi film releases. The hype surrounding Endhiran the Robot was just too huge to ignore, being arguably the most expensive Indian movie to date, the coming together of two of the Indian Subcontinent's mega stars in Superstar Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, world class computer generated effects, the Mozart of Madras A.R. Rahman providing the score, reports that it had already made a profit before a single reel was screened for the public, a release worldwide on more than 2000 screens simultaneously, and the crazy queues you'll have to join to secure a ticket. I was prepared to watch this as is, but thankfully this Tamil film, which was also released overseas in the Hindi and Telugu dubbed formats, came with English subtitles, so it's no more an excuse not to check out the reopened Rex Cinemas downtown.
I have to admit that I haven't seen much of Superstar Rajnikanth's films in their entirety, other than the wonderful Annamalai many, many years back, and it firmly remains one of my favourites, so you can imagine the thrill of watching the Superstar on the big screen cementing his status as one of Kollywood's greatest again. He plays two roles here in a biblical take on creation, being the scientific creator Dr. Vaseegaran who's latest achievement after 10 years, is to develop a robot (christened Chetti by the Dr's mom) with an advanced neural networks, which is also played by the Superstar himself devoid of emotions, because feelings is something every computer scientist knows we're not quite there yet since programming more than not involves codes of logic, the rational and things explainable through maths, rather than the irrational based on emotion.
But being human is to have feelings and to express them, and that primarily separates machines from humans. In essence the story, besides being a romance, is an examination into the difference between man and machine, and the caution that should one day we get to such an advanced state of artificial intelligence that Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics have to be seriously looked into, and if one can truly program irrationality, then bear in mind that it comes with the negative traits associated with being human, Vaseegaran finds out that playing god and the proud acknowledgement of that ability comes with a degree of responsibility outside of hugging his creation each time it sings his praises, before the narrative turns in the second half into something darker, with betrayal and the severance of ties between Vaseegaran and Chetti.
And all this because of a woman too. The story before the interval dwells more on the romance or lack thereof between Vaseegaran and Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), and takes on a rather playful nature in between the creation of the titular robot, and that of his abilities in assisting Sana through her studies, whipping up gastronomical meals, beating up thugs who disturb the peace, and provided for an entertaining fight sequence onboard a train involving the systematic destruction of the train cabin as thugs get slammed left, right and center by Chetti, which I'm sure in a packed house will have audiences applauding with approval. Bit by bit we see what Chetti is capable of, and highlights Vaseegaran's claim that it can dish out efficiencies and strengths of 100 men, before it starts to take on a new challenge in understanding feelings and emoting them, and with Love being as irrational as it is, proves to be a handful for a robot's comprehension as he starts to get romantically obsessed with Sana.
But Chetti, in disappointing terms, is created none other than as a weapon for the army, which I thought geared very much to the real world where anything that can be weaponized will, running contrary to the fantastical take of the narrative thus far, which provided a talking point for the filmmakers to preach about the virtues of love over war, and why man cannot for once abandon that thought for love, which we are equally capable of. Embarrassed by his creation, Vaseegaran destroys Chetti only for his rival (Danny Denzongpa) to pick up the pieces and provide his own little code to transform Chetti into a killing machine, which provided for almost all the action sequences in the second half of the film to the point of excessiveness, an opportunity to see the Superstar in hundreds of numbers creating an army of itself and a fortress in which to house the kidnapped Sana. And trust me when I say the final act of the film involves some very loud battles between robots and soldiers that made it seem like you're watching a disaster flick with Transformers.
Clocking in at 170 minutes, there were a few redundant scenes here that could have been done away as it didn't move the narrative forward, like the scene involving Chetti communicating with mosquitoes (yes you read that right). The action sequences in the film are unlike what I've seen in any Indian film to date, and puts them on par with what Hollywood does in terms of designing and executing them flawlessly between live action and computer animation, though at times it's easy to detect where the money shots were placed. A.R. Rahman's music provided the right touches in the film although I would think the song and dance numbers were a little long – especially those that came in to justify the love between Vaseegaran and Sana – that were made bearable only by the excellent dance choreography, which both Superstar and Aishwarya seem very comfortable in performing.
Like a typical Indian masala film, this one has the right mix of everything – song, dance, action, romance, and plenty of effects thrown in to make it look ahead of its time. for being an entertaining broad crowd pleaser. Superstar Rajnikanth is at his element here playing 3 different roles - the professor, the good Chetti and evil Chetti, and anyone who suspects Aishwarya's dance ability should be convinced without a doubt she has all the right moves here, because that's what actually shines through given her rather muted role as the medical undergraduate at awe with her boyfriend's ability to build a walking, talking and feeling robot protector. All in, Endhiran is a case in point in the maturing of the Indian film industry in terms of their technical knowhow, just like how the advanced Chetti got created as a labour of love.