Automatons created by humans to discharge hazardous and repetitive functions or as we commonly refer to them, robots have been a persistent motif used to explore various themes of deep significance—-like defining what exactly it means to be human (Philip Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) or the conflict between rational thought and emotion (Kubrick’s “AI”) or the tragedy inherent in human beings attempting to be creators (“Frankenstein”), wherein their imperfections are inevitably reflected in what they make. To that rich corpus of art needs to be added “Robot” (Tamil: Enthiran) in which magical director Shankar, explores in visionary scale, all this and even more—-namely the story of Creation and the relationship between God and his most amazing product: Man.
“Robot” starts off with Dr. Vaseegaran, played by Rajanikant, in a lab. He is creating, in addition to the laws of physics (Every action against Rajnikant causes a multiplied millionfold reaction), a robot: a cross between what we saw in “I Robot” and “Bicentennial Man”. The allusions are pretty clear. Rajanikant being God (And there is no doubt about that) in real life, it is only but natural that Dr. Vaseegaran be a celluloid reflection of the Supreme Being. Some people have complained about there being no finger-wagging, goggle-turning, cigarette-burning entry for the Thalaivar but it is very clear that director Shankar is sending a message here—that being that he believes in the Hoyle-Narlikar steady state theory of the creation of the universe wherein God or Creation does not appear in a Big Bang explosion accompanied by cosmic background radiation of claps and chawannis but is instead an eternal entity that has always persisted through time, with neither an “entry” nor an “exit”.
The robot that the good doctor is creating is called Chitti (also played by Rajanikant). It does not require a degree in Awesomeness to deduce that this Chitti is nothing but a representative of Man—since it is created in God’s (Rajanikant’s) own image (Book of Genesis) [In a certain sequence, Chitti says “Mujhe banane wala Bhagwan hai” when asked whether he believes in God]. But so busy is God/Dr.V in the act of creation that he neglects his girl-friend Sana. Played by Aishwarya Rai, she represents plastic perfection, an ideal that even God aspires for.When Dr. V brings Chitti home, Sana takes an instant liking for him so much that she exclaims “Yeh mera Boy-friend naheen yeh mera Toy-friend”, which when you think of it is a rather alarming thing for a woman to say when she has a boy-friend absent for days on end.
Dr. V tries to introduce Chitti to the Indian Army but there his introduction is opposed by a jealous scientist Dr. Bohra (who can be either Lucifer or just an average Rediffian North Indian), played by Danny Dengzoppa, who proves that Chitti is merely a dumb creation of God, lacking the ability to judge. When an incident with a nude woman happens, God understands that in his quest for perfection, he neglected to give Man/Robot/Chitti the ability to make his own choices. In short the ability to feel. When he gives this, God plants in man the source of evil (metaphorically called the “red chip”—or the red apple) as Man then makes a play for God’s girl-friend, so as to aspire to best his Creator, an act of ultimate rebellion.
The inevitable battle between God and Man consequently ensures on a scale of Perseus going up against Zeus, as numerous Krakens are unleashed of the kind never seen in Indian cinema. Clone armies, the giant drill from Transformers, fragments from Magneto of X-Men, Godzilla, I Robot…. all light up the screen as the audience is treated to a rare spectacle of mythical scale.
Shankar (and what a significant name) is in supreme command of his craft layering allusion after allusion in this cinematic spectacle. Whether it be through lines like “Inki aankhein dikti bhi hai aur dikhaati bhi hai” where he invokes the eye symbolism of knowledge and insight a la Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner or be it through his association of evil with biriyani and non-vegetarianism (two rascal helpers of God try to make Man eat non-veg food which he repulses by beating them with chappals) or the sequence where Sana “discharges” the robot through a sexy dance, the director never ceases to provoke and question his audience. And of course when you have God in every frame, sometimes multiple copies of him, you really do not have much to do. Right?
There comes rarely in history a movie that EVERYONE loves. I mean EVERYONE. “Robot” is one such. You simply have no choice. And if you be, one of the rare ones, who are underwhelmed by Rajni’s latest and as a result raise your voice in whiny criticism, you should remember Three Laws of Survival (like Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics)
Law 1: Never call your wife fat.
Law 2: Never paint a picture of the Prophet
Law 3: Never never, ever call a movie of Rajni to be anything less than the greatest.
Remind yourself of these. That is if you value your life.
Unless of course you be a robot, deprived of that basic instinct that defines humanity—-the urge for self-preservation.