Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Decidedly Un-Robotic Open Letter to Nikhat Kazmi...

Dear Nikhat-didi,
aapne mera dil toRh diyaa... (You broke my heart). This was my first reaction when the end credits started rolling after "Enthiran: The Robot".

How could you? No, really, how could you? You are Nikhat Kazmi, an esteemed Senior Editor with the Times of India group and the author of a highly popular weekly film review column for the newspaper. La Esposa and I have been, for years, hanging on to every word you said in your movie reviews, because our collective opinions almost always found a reflexion in your eloquent ones. Sadly, you seem to have gone to the deep end now: you gave Four Stars to the newly released Rajnikanth-Aishwarya Rai starrer "Enthiran: The Robot". Intrigued about the movie and emboldened by your Four-Star review, we drove 50 miles to a theater in Gaithersburg to watch the spectacle, that purportedly broke all records by garnering Rs. 205 crores (1 crore = 10 million) through advance bookings before its release.

I want our money back.

I know we can't get those 2 hours and 52 minutes of our lives restored, but I have written them off to my stupidity and lack of foresightedness. I mean, seriously, what was I thinking? et tu, Nikhat-didi?

I wanted to like the movie. I really did. You said it was "super fun". You said, "Have a blast!" You should have warned us that this was a prototypical South-Indian masaala movie, not just that it was [I quote] "primarily designed as an unadulterated tribute to the charisma of Indian cinema's ageless superstar, Rajnikanth." Ageless, my arse! Throughout the movie, for all his multitude of wigs and sideburns and make-up, Rajnikanth looked plain old. Did he suit the role of the middle-aged Indian scientist? Yes. Did he look young enough to be romancing a medical-student-aged Aishwarya Rai (who looked timelessly gorgeous, as always)? Hell, no!!

Everyone grows old. It's the law of nature. No amount of make-up or Botox can wipe away the creases and wrinkles Rajnikanth feels in his mind - writ large in his stiff dance moves (despite the moves being choreographed, in part, by Prabhu Deva) and tired acting. Even his trademarks, the twinkle in his eyes and the lopsided smirk/grin, seemed forced and incongruous. It's high time the aged superstar acknowledged the tide of time and started accepting age-appropriate roles that highlight his undoubted acting abilities. I mean, look how gracefully the quintessential Angry Young Man of Bollywood has aged and continues to shine in the role of older, more mature, charismatic, and well-rounded characters (à la Sean Connery). Why can't we expect a similar good sense from the demi-god superstar from the South?

No, don't answer that, Nikhat-didi. I have a good idea why. We caught of glimpse of the mindless adulation he enjoys amongst his fandom. In the movie theater in Gaithersburg (who woulda thunk?), we heard enthusiastic wolf-whistles from the dakshin desi bhaai-bandhu crowd when the camera zoomed in onto Rajnikanth's person, walking The Walk, bang in the middle of a dance sequence. Take that in for a moment. The delectable Ms. Rai, that cynosure of the viewers' eyes, dancing gracefully, sensuously and charmingly in well-chosen attire, elicited no special reaction from the audience, neither did the astoundingly beautiful locales - but one solo shot of Rajnikanth gliding awkwardly through, and the crowd erupted. See what's wrong with this picture?

Further reasons why this movie disgusted me: I hate such robot-as-pathos storylines, invariably the technophobe's recurrent wet-dream. You build a powerful robot without adequate safeguards (nod to the Asimov's three laws of Robotics) for the purpose of making it a mindless killing machine, and then you are surprised when it actually... kills? You create artificial intelligence, and then you allow it to be used for... hi-tech cheating in exams? Seriously? Twenty years down the lane, you bring children to a Robotics museum and display an advanced robot that has been dismantled because, in its own words, it "started thinking"? If I wanted more anti-technology, anti-science messages, I'd have sooner picked up a trashy Robin Cook fiction than sit through this bilge.

Nikhat-didi, you have tried hard to find the silver lining to this movie when you commented, "The high point of Robot are the super quality special effects." For a movie that spent about 40% of its humongous Rs. 162 crore budget on commissioning the best professionals for the special effects, the SFX ought to be damn good. But you know what? It was disappointing, because the special effects weren't that great either, almost banal, lacking an ounce of creativity. All that running on the side of a moving train, and melting away skin to reveal a metallic body, and rotating heads, and jumping onto burning buildings - we have seen it all before. Even the moves themselves, for example, the robot catapulting itself to the walls of the building, were very reminiscent of the exact same moves seen in Hollywood movies (Spiderman, in the cited example); it was almost as if the SFX director took his canned CG stocks from earlier, more celebrated movies, and put fresh skin and clothes on the characters to place them in Enthiran. It was a shame really, because the final fight sequence between the clonal robots and the defending authorities was perhaps the most believable and consistently good sequence in the entire movie.

If this is the hallmark of "mainstream Indian cinema" [quoting you, Nikhat-didi], I've had my fill, thank you very much. I have rarely seen a more trashy flick or have endured three hours of torturous assault on my intellect. Even Dabangg was better than this, because it had no pretensions. I don't know if I can ever again trust without reservation, as I used to do, your movie recommendations.

The only comic relief (or so we thought) we got from the movie was from the home-study scene with Ms. Rai and the robot Rajnikanth. The medical student Sana was revising her embryology text and spoke out about mono-zygotic and di-zygotic twins. To our much-needed delight, the English subtitle on screen pronounced them as "mono-psychotic" and "di-psychotic". In retrospect, it was prophetic. We were mono-psychotic to have driven all the way to witness this rubbish; but by the time it ended, we were certain di-psychotic, with a strange inner urge to burn down the movie theater and destroy all prints of this travesty in existence.

Don't worry. We suppressed it and drove back in relative silence, occasionally humming "Kilimanjaro-Mohenjodaro".

Hope you are doing well, too. More astounding facts about the movie can be found in The Telegraph (Calcutta). I weep for my country.

Yours sincerely, &c.


  1. brilliantly written! i expected The Robot to be trash, but all the hype and hoopla creted by the newspaper reviews and esteemed critics like Rajeev Masand, left me unsure. now i'm sure i was right. good that i haven't wasted my money. they have down-thumbed Anjaana Anjaani - i think i ought to go and watch just that.

  2. brilliant. i'm linking back to you.