Back in the mid-90’s, our cable provider started carrying either Telemundo or Univision. I can’t remember which and, quite frankly, it’s not important to this story. On Thursday nights, this Spanish language channel shared time with a Hindi broadcaster who only ran Indian music videos. For the span of a month, it became a habit of mine to smoke a bowl and watch this insane block of television because in a three hour session, I’d see no less than half a dozen unique Hindi interpretations of The Macarena, never once repeating the same artist. That’s between twenty four and thirty two individual takes on a song that had already drifted out of the American pop-culture hivemind! This is why I don’t do Bollywood. It’s not the only reason. There’s the matter of Bollwood movies commonly clocking in at three hours long and the vast majority of them being romantic comedy knock-offs of the Cinderella story but hokey song and dance numbers drive me out, for the most part. I tried to give it a chance a few times because there are action and horror movies out there that combine the conventions of their respective genres with the patent madness of the common Bollywood trait of insane musical numbers but it just never works for me.
I figured I’d cut Bollwood a break this time around because Enthiran had been making the rounds on the niche movie blogs and websites and a recent pair of clips circulating thanks to io9 started making the rounds among a lot of people I know and I couldn’t resist. Firstly, a review would draw a lot of hits to the site and I am kind of a whore that way. Secondly, have you seen those fucking clips? I dream up movies like this when I’m really tired and I’ve been drinking! Columns of evil robots turn into a giant cobra. A dude wields dozens of machine guns simultaneously and hoses down dozens of cops. It was off the fucking wall! How do you not watch something like that?
Dr. Vaseegaran has built the world’s most advanced android in the form of Chitti with plans to introduce it to the Indian military to take over for human soldiers and spare the citizens of India further loss of life since this seems to be a sore spot among pretty much everyone in the movie. Unfortunately, Chitti is kind of stupid and only follows your orders verbatim like some kind of walking Unix computer. Vaseegaran’s mentor, Dr. Bora is trying to develop his own line of robots but is failing miserably and manages to pull a fast one at an artificial intelligence hearing, barring Chitti from going into production because he doesn’t understand shit and can’t seem to discern friend from foe. To remedy this, Vaseegaran programs a complex series of emotions into Chitti but again, this backfires when the robot falls in love with Vaseeegaran’s girlfriend, Sana. When Chitti defies orders to take his crush on Sana down a notch, Vaseegaran flies into a rage, breaks Chitti into little pieces and disposes of him, giving Bora the chance to turn Chitti into a serious weapon to be sold to terrorists. Of course, this goes horribly wrong and evil Chitti goes apeshit replicating himself and killing everyone. Somehow this story takes three hours to tell.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. In a nutshell, Enthiran is Frankenstein if it were a romantic comedy, occasionally interrupted by music videos, directed by McG. All the themes from Mary Shelley’s gothic horror classic is there: forbidden science, the creation longing for identity and humanity, pitchfork and torch-wielding mobs (torches and pitchforks replaced by assault rifles and rocket launchers), a violent rampage, elaborate song and dance numbers featuring multiple costume changes and hip-hop. Certainly, neither Mary Shelley nor James Whale’s vision of Frankenstein featured musical routines but this is a Shankar flick and the movie-going public of India expects to be entertained. I’m just not sure how this lunacy translated into box office success because it’s really fucking stupid and not always in a good way.
Enthiran’s primary problem is that it’s really long. This movie is easily 90 minutes too long and when you consider that the average Hollywood picture tops out at 90 minutes, that’s a whole second movie made up entirely of filler and subplots of no consequence. Were you to trim out the subplots of Sana cheating on her medical school finals, thwarting her neighbors with the loud techno music and the multiple near-rape scenes (not kidding), you’d be left with a perfectly functional gonzo rom-com leaving the all-important song and dance shit intact. Bollywood is an acquired taste that I have not acquired, it seems. I try to respect the Prime Directive in cases of foreign film because who am I to criticize the culture and customs of another nation? I just cannot seem to wrap my head around the appeal of Bollywood, though. It’s the second largest film industry in the world, remarkably, and based on what Bollywood I’ve been exposed to, it seems to me that the people of India will watch anything.
Enthiran is a zany comedy with remarkable production values (action by Yuen Woo Ping, VFX by Industrial Light and Magic, creature FX by Stan Winston Studios) and it features a lot of the proven physical comedy techniques from the silent era of Hollywood. It’s funny and completely out of control, seemingly unaware that in comparison to the genre cinema of other countries that it’s, in fact, really dumb but when it’s funny, it’s actually really funny. The problem is that with a running time of three hours, you wind up sitting around, watching the clock, waiting for the funny to come back because there are excessively long stretches of running time devoted to not much but these strange script codas that keep revisiting Chitti the robot’s obsession with Sana, the love interest, and it goes nowhere. The musical portions, and I’m sure this is common in Bollywood, don’t seem to be a part of the film’s actual tapestry and seem to be reliefs in the action as they’re never woven into the narrative. They are literally music videos that break up the larger movie. I guess I was expecting them to be musical bits similar to the sort of thing you’d find in Singin’ In The Rain, my gold standard for the Hollywood musical but they don’t seem to have anything to do with Enthiran excepting that they feature the film’s stars Rajni and Aishwarya Rai. This pair, for the film’s central romantic motivator, have absolutely zero chemistry and what’s more, superstar Rajni, actually credited as “Superstar Rajni” in the opening titles, while charismatic and talented in the dual role of Dr. Vaseegaeran and Chitti, is pretty flabby and noticably older than his sweetheart, the impossibly beautiful Aishawarya Rai. Again, maybe this is something common to India’s culture. I hate to be presumptuous but fucking Christ! The guy is in his 60’s!
Those with an appreciation for Bollywood or a remarkable capacity for patience will find a once-in-a-lifetime kind of crazy action comedy in Enthiran but the rest of us, letting our curiosity explore India’s contributions to world cinema will find a tedious, jagged picture pockmarked with moments of brilliant lunacy, time-tested comic devices (more than a couple of people get hit in the balls), a gorgeous co-star who does little more than faint after finding herself in peril… again, and surprisingly good visual effects. I’m at a loss, though, to explain why these pictures have to be so long. Enthiran is a real slog, man. I hate to sound like I’m slamming India’s film culture because this stuff works like magic in Mumbai and is huge business and I’m just some American with a film blog who isn’t connecting with their unique offerings. Just be aware: The stuff you’ve been seeing in those hilarious Youtube videos don’t take place until the last hour of the movie. In closing, I fully expect the comments section of this review being flooded with angry people from India. I’m sorry in advance, folks. I realize that Rajni is some kind of force of nature in India but I just didn’t get it.