Sunday October 17, 2010

Endhiran (Tamil) – Director: Shankar

Posted by Karthik

Can Dunning-Kruger effect be tested on Rajinikanth fans?

Let me explain.

Rajinikanth fans want the man to perform death defying stunts. They want him to be the uber-male who can entice any woman. They also want him to ‘perform’ his style. All sounds normal, but do they want him to be intelligent? And, if he seems intelligent on screen, thanks to an intelligent director, would they be able to identify and appreciate that intelligence?

The Rajinikanth’ising of Dunning-Kruger effect is the main thing that stood out for me in Endhiran. This is a film that demanded the intelligence usually associated with someone like Kamal Haasan, but director Shankar makes a clever compromise and uses Rajini as a catalyst to make the film happen.

It is a compromise that may annoy and puncture the ego of Rajini fans all over the world. So, no bombastic intro scene. No action scenes. Minimal dancing befitting a 60 year old man…nay, grandfather. Even in a scene where his fans would be craving for the man to break Kalabhavan Mani’s bones, he merely performs the literal version of the age-old Tamil phrase, ‘Kannil man alli thoovudhal’ (Coarse transliteration: Putting sand into eyes) and perhaps, in full realization of what he just did…or didn’t…ends up laughing hysterically along with his equally amused lady love.

Make no mistake, this is not a Rajnikanth film – this is every scene a Shankar film. It is mounted on an incredibly ambitious scale and the result is spectacular. The graphics are convincingly brilliant, on par with any Hollywood film.

The story is engrossing. And even though it is an oft-attempted plot in Hollywood, it is a great feeling to see the same thing translate itself in Tamil, with amazingly intelligent nativity. So, you have Chitti do a local deity, Chellaatha, using arms magnetized from goons…Chitti applying mehndi in ladies hands in a jiffy…Vaseegaran teaching emotions to Chitti in Tamil…even Chitti learning the Rig Veda.

This nativity is no doubt Sujatha’s handiwork and it is evident too – the nuances in the dialogs are his trademark and it is heartening to see his name getting top billing for dialogs, followed by Shankar himself and Madhan Karky, Vairamuthu’s son.

The highlight of the film is of course Chitti and later, Chitti 2.0, where Shankar smartly brings in the Rajini effect, most notably, using his look and menacing act from Moondru Mugam. Chitti’s conception, by Shankar (not Vaseegaran) is highly original, since this finally justifies and makes plausible all the over-the-top’ness that the non-Rajini fans in the audience may be cribbing out. In a way, Chitti is the multiplexisation of Rajinikanth, where even the thinking set of audience may enjoy the film’s eye-popping action by Rajinikanth without worrying about logic. From that perspective, the Chitti character is a masterstroke. How has it gone down with the hard core Rajini fan is a pending question, but the fact that someone of Rajini’s stature even agreed to perform the timid Vaseegaran role fully aware that the other action-oriented role is that of a Robot could be perceived only in two ways – total lack of ego…or total negligence of fan sentiments.

The robot could well be Peter Hein (the action choreographer) or Prabhu Deva/ Raju Sundaram, with Rajini’s face masked over their faces and height adjusted. After all, if you could have hundreds of Rajinis in the climax scene, how difficult is it to mask more talented performers in the field of action and dance, below Rajini’s head? The effect and result is stunning, to say the least. The electric train action scene in particular, though longer than it should be, gets back the Rajini of 80s in flexibility and action chops.

Aishwarya Rai perhaps never looked this good and this is a fact that has been vouched by her father-in-law as well! It is perhaps fitting that this lovely damsel is the one who finally gets a Robot to fall in love and that seems totally acceptable when you see how she looks!

The music is strictly average, though on screen, the songs take another magical form in Shankar’s able hands. The songs are larger-than-life, in true Shankar style, with Kilimanjaro and Irumbile standing out for the sheer imagination that has gone into their making.

There is a plethora of scientific terms and names sprinkled all over the film and for the core of Rajini’s fans, these may seem not only incongruous, but also pointless. But, for even the reasonably smart ones in the audience, this may be very heartening, given how appropriate and well-researched they are. I really appreciated the explanation given by Vaseegaran for Chitti not being programmed with Asimov’s 3 laws.

Shankar’s touch is evident all through the film. Some of them are highly original and enjoyable. The chat between Chitti and mosquitoes, though seemingly silly, has some sparkling originality in terms of the conversation per se and mosquito names. The conception of the fire rescue scene and the way it ends is another where the director’s touch comes through visibly. The most amazing of all was the Black Sheep scene, a stupendously clever take on a similar scene from I, Robot, where the players are reversed and mixing Rajini’s legendary, menacing villainy, the whole scene becomes the film’s highlight for it’s ingenuity.

Endhiran is a highly enjoyable flick…and worth the watch more than once. This is Shankar’s best yet and is perhaps a challenge that even he may not be able to scale. The mega budget touted in every pre-release interview shows on screen and the effort in special effects too looks amazing – this film perhaps has the most sophisticated and smooth effects seen in Indian cinema so far. The scale and scope of the film seems massive and Shankar has comfortably surpassed all milestones in Indian film history by executing it all with such ease and imagination.

The only thing he may not have surpassed was something that would have been the easiest – expectations from Rajini fans. That seems quite fair considering what we have all got, as a result of the scale allowed by Rajini’s reach…the reason for Kalanidhi Maran even backing this film. That catalyzing role of Rajini, in Endhiran, is his best ever, in my opinion.

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