Up until Saturday night, I had not watched a movie that came from the prolific Indian film industry. I was invited to a BBQ at a friend’s place and he suggested to the assembled crowd that we watch the highest grossing Indian film of all time. The movie, Enthiran, which translates to “robot”, was one of the most expensive Indian films to make and it took a better part of two years to produce. It’s also a sci-fi film, so how could we turn down my friend’s suggestion?

Enthiran is about a robotics scientist who creates a robot which is the most advanced version of his kind. It is basically a walking supercomputer. Because it is a robot, it can also perform amazing physical feats. It has the strength of several men and knows how to perform martial arts and dance (which comes in handy for an Indian movie). They name the robot Chitti and his only fault appears to be that he does not have feelings nor emotions. He also appears to have no distinction between good and bad.

The movie is typically Indian in that there are several dance numbers sprinkled liberally through the movie. Though the cast doesn’t just spontaneously break out into song and dance, the film does cut away abruptly to some weird set or location where the dancing and singing begin without pause. I found that a bit odd and jarring, perhaps it might have been better had they just stuck to the current location and just did the dance number there. For example, in one scene, two major characters were in a scene in what was clearly an Indian beach. Without warning or explanation, the movie cut to an outdoor location in Peru where they sang and danced. It was clearly Peru but the actual plot had nothing to do with Peru as the entire movie was set in India. I found that very strange.

For the most part, there were very few cultural references or sensibilities that I did not understand in the movie, except for one. In one scene, Chitti the robot rescues people in an apartment building that is engulfed in flames. He reaches the last trapped victim, a young woman who was taking a bath when the fire started. Naked, the young lady pleads with Chitti not to take her as she is without clothes. She says this even as the flames dance around the bathtub. Chitti ignores her and then cradles her in his arms and takes her to safety. She is left with the gathering crowd outside the burning building all the while still naked. The scientist severely scolds Chitti for taking the naked young woman from the building in her clothes-less condition. A jacket is quickly placed around her to provide her some dignity. It is too late though, as the gathering crowd and media makes the girl feel much shame. She then runs, nay flees the scene to escape her indignity. In doing so, she refuses to look both ways and darts into a busy road where she is promptly hit by a truck and killed. The robot’s creator and everyone else blame Chitti for killing her, ignoring the fact that no one else could have saved her from the fire. It was then that myself and everyone in the room discovered that in Indian culture, it would have been better had the young girl died in the fire than be brought out alive but naked. I did not know that they put such a high premium on decency and honour, to the point that if one had to choose between dying in a fire or public nudity, dying in the fire is socially the right thing to do.

The other thing I have to mention about this film is that the special effects range from pretty good to downright awful. The burning building I mentioned above was all done in CGI and it was very unrealistic. They had the entire building covered in flames so it was like this rectangular volume of flame. Fires in buildings don’t burn like that. Some of the later CGI scenes were a bit better but still not Hollywood quality. What was good was any SFX that involved cars. Whether or not the SFX made any sense from a logical standpoint is another question.

Overall, I thought it was a good learning experience and I felt my horizons were expanded. If you want to see the best “action” bits of Enthiran, watch the video above.

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