NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
A Tamil-language science fiction spectacular (with songs, of course), which – like much Indian popular cinema – covers all bases by cramming an evening’s varied entertainment into three busy hours. It feels like one film in the Making Mr Right comedy vein followed after an intermission by a sequel which veers into Terminator territory. Both robo-flicks are fun, though Enthiran only gets extraordinary in a climax (a youtube hit) which borrows an effects technique from the Matrix sequels but applies it to a different end as a horde of identical robot men combine into a morphing giant which takes the form of various useful or dangerous items, including a drill-bit, a cobra (with individual robots as fangs), a rolling ball and a giant humanoid.
Dr Veeseegaran (Rajnikanth, billed as ‘Superstar Ranji’) is so intent on creating a humanoid robot that he neglects his pretty med student girlfriend Sana (lovely Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and lets his beard grow out of control. His creation, named Chitti (also Ranji), is an I, Robot-look metal humanoid with a babyface, which gets a plastic skinsheath that makes it look like its creator (as in Making Mr Right) and is fitted with an Elvis wig and shades. The machine goes through a learning process whereby he has to get beyond literal meanings of instructions (he smashes a TV set rather than turns it on) and fit in with human society, though he quickly learns how to cook, clean and do top science stuff. Rather implausibly – as if that mattered much in Bollywood – the robot is unveiled to the world, though not approved for usage by the jealous and scheming Dr Bohra (Danny Denzongpa), and the doctor lets Sana play with Chitti for the weekend. The robot demonstrates action movie skills in seeing off two separate bands of baddies – some noisy yuppie neighbours who play rap music too near the womens’ community where Sana works (there’s incidental mention of how many of the young women there are widowed in a recent war) and a bunch of criminal bullies (using magnetism, Chitti rips away all their weapons and bling and briefly becomes encrusted with them). Both factions get together (the thugs bring wood and stone weaponry) and are about to rape Sana on a crowded train when Chitti saves the day. After Bohra rigs a demonstration to show Chitti’s limits, the project seems likely to be abandoned until a fire breaks out in a nearby crowded residential area and Chitti rescues everyone – using magnetic attraction in a clever way – though this feat is compromised by the fact that he humiliates one girl by carrying her naked (optically blurred) from the bath, prompting her to throw herself in front of a bus in shame (!).
In Part Two, Chitti gets upgrades and learns bad lessons: Dr Veeseegaran inculcates him with human emotions (seldom a good idea in AI movies) and Sana lightheartedly uses him to cheat on her final exams (for which she isn’t really punished – though it’s actually as transgressive a use of the robot as the baddie’s plan). Chitti falls in love with Sana and is unreasonable about it – he argues that they can adopt the children he can’t have and specifies that he can’t have sex with her – and also refuses to take part in a military exercise (he’s been designed for army use) that will justify the funding. In a jealous snit, Dr Veeseegaran dismantles Chitti and dumps the bits in a vast trash site, but Bohra salvages and repairs the robot, adding a ‘red chip’ to make him aggressive. The new Chitti puts on a Terminatorish leather jacket and shades (in one gag, he gets part of his face blown off like Arnie in the Terminator poster) and has a white-streak-across-the-top hairdo. Meanwhile, Dr Veeseegaran and Sana go off on a holiday to rekindle their romance, have a spat which prompts her to ask a passing comedy slob to be her boyfriend for a day – which allows the hero to win her back by saving her when the funny guy ceases to be funny and threatens to rape her at knife-point. After killing Bohra, Chitti becomes a homicidal megalomaniac, gunning down hordes of cops and civilians and manufacturing many clones of himself. Dr Veeseegaran disguises himself as a Chitti and infiltrates the enemy camp, where a drop of sweat could give him away, and it comes down to a Godzilla/Transformers face-off between the Chittis and the army, with the boffin saving the day. Then, in several codas, we get the soulful robot dismantling itself and a 2030 tag in which the head is still alive in a museum.
It includes a musical number about Kilimanjaro seemingly shot in Peru, which suggests a healthy budget – and the effects scenes are only slightly cruder than similar Hollywood efforts. The cocktail of knockabout comedy (two idiot lab assistants provide this), action melodrama, soap opera (Chitti delivers a baby!), science fiction (elements from AI, Bicentennial Man, Short Circuit, Robocop and many another robo movie show up), thriller, near-surreal non sequitur (to please Sana, Chitti hunts down the mosquito which dared bite her and has a conversation with a bunch of disease-spreading evil insects), romance (very chaste), musical, social commentary and satire means it can’t be especially outstanding in any of its chosen genres, but it holds the interest for nearly three hours. Written and directed by Shankar; with dialogue by Swanand Kirkire and Shree Ramakrishna and lyrics by Karky, Sujatha, Vairamuthu and Pa. Vijay. 2010.