STRANGE SIGHTINGS IN THE NETFLIX BASEMENT
In this series every week, I will take a deep spelunking expedition into the depths of the Netflix Basement and find the strangest films I can to review. And let me tell you, things can get pretty weird.
Such as Exhibit A…
Robot is in the Action & Adventure bin at Netflix. The preview has cyborgs and kung fu and what I presume is the titular Robot running along the SIDE of a moving train! Sounds good to me, let’s fire up this bad boy.
I discovered Robot is an Indian film from 2010 also known as Enthiran. At the time of its release, it was the most expensive Indian film ever made, and also the highest grossing. It stars the monomynous named Rajinikanth who pulls double duty as the Robot AND the Inventor. Actually he plays many, many more parts, but I’ll get to that in a moment. And oh, wow, it’s Aishwarya Rai, former Miss India and one of the Most Beautiful People in the World according to some PR firms who make these kinds of proclamations.
This is a huge budget movie by Indian standards, featuring two of the biggest stars in the world, so it’s kind of like a Tamil Titanic, except with cyborgs, explosions and many, many groin punches. So pretty much the same movie.
We start off in the lab as Rajinikanth is a nerdy scientist who is building a Robot named Chitti with his two useless comic relief assistants. Clearly the filmmakers watched many, many American Sci-fi films as I’m getting heavy whiffs of Terminator, Iron Man, The Matrix, and Short Circuit mere minutes into the movie. I know the filmmakers have seen Short Circuit because the inventor looks and acts exactly like Fisher Stevens’ Indian computer programmer. Except that the actor really IS Indian this time. Chitti looks like Robot Roy Orbison wearing old person sunglasses, with a similar paunchy physique. My expectations for this movie started pretty low as there is a lot of bad Three Stooges-style slapstick. And it takes forever to build the robot, something Terminator accomplishes by the end of the opening credits. At this point, I notice this movie is nearly three hours long?! Holy cow, do they need some editors in India. You know the storytelling is slack when it takes a Bollywood movie 20 minutes to get to the first musical number.
My main problem with the film is that we’re supposed to like the inventor, but he’s building the robot to sell it as a weapon, he tolerates the incompetent assistants, and he’s criminally ignoring Aishywara Rai. Aishywara is studying to be a doctor, so seriously, why is she waiting around for this doofus to marry her? She can literally get any man she wants. Although, she’s captured and threatened by almost every male character she meets, so on second thought, maybe she shouldn’t leave her house.
The movie starts to get going after Robo Orbison saves Aishywara’s life several times, then fights off an entire train car full of thugs with capoeira moves and super-fast punching, all while protecting Aishywara’s virtue. Then he jumps off the train in the middle of the fight to collect her purse, then runs back onto the train using magnetism and robot speed skating to finish the ass-kicking.
Later, after Chitti performs an emergency baby delivery, Aishywara gives him a kiss and it fries his circuitry. He falls in love with Aishywara, and really, who could blame him? We are exactly at the halfway point and then the movie starts to go bonkers, like in a long sequence where Chitti talks to mosquitoes so he can track down the one that bit Aishywara. So it’s exactly like Short Circuit. Despite its derivative inspirations, the movie is pretty creative and flies off on random tangents, throwing in every kind of special effect, camera angle and some expensive music videos. At one point I’m pretty sure they go to Incan ruins in Peru, just because.
From what I gather about Bollywood films, they are not just one kind of movie (action , romance, comedy.) They are all of those things rolled together in an attempt to appeal to as many people as possible. This one is a three hour Musical Robot Sci-Fi Action epic. So there’s pants falling down comedy, chaste romance, and ridiculous over the top melodrama with brutally violent action all competing for dominance. By the end though, Sci-Fi Action Epic takes over. I will not spoil any surprises, but I will tease you by saying that there is a scene with an army of Chitti clones that roll into a giant ball that crushes the army dudes and Chitti starts shooting bullets from his fingers, and the movie is only getting started with the strangeness. The final action sequence puts anything in the entire Transformers franchise to shame with its sheer “anything goes” robot army goofiness.
The movie is wall to wall special effects. Some aren’t so special, but all in all they are pretty terrific and serve the movie well. Rajinikanth is really great. Sure he’s plump and 20 years older than Aishywara, but he’s game for anything. He delineates both of his characters well, along with the robot clones. I started rooting for Chitti to get with the girl because Indian Fisher Stevens is such a drip, but I think that’s intentional by the filmmakers. Aishywara Rai is a bona fide movie star. I know she’s done some serious acting in dramas and historical epics, but I can’t imagine too many American actresses coming off so well in a Transformers level epic of crazy effects and ridiculous plotting. Her only American film to this point is Pink Panther 2. Seriously, Hollywood, you can’t figure out something better to do with a talented, exotic beauty who can sing and dance?
BOTTOM LINE: Robot was my first Bollywood extravaganza and I was not disappointed. Sure there were parts that didn’t work, some scenes run on way too long, and some bad comedy hijinx ensue, but a lot of the comedy does work and something new and unusual will come flying at your face every 10 minutes. Bollywood films try to give you your money’s worth, and since it doesn’t cost you anything, do yourself a favor and carve out three hours to check it out.