Thursday, October 21, 2010

Endhiran Paarvai - Written by Karthik Ramakrishnan

I know you liked Enthiran and think of it as some milestone in Tamil cinema. I disagree and with good reason. It is not that there aren't some good things in the movie... like the absence of an opening song. No Rajini jumping and breaking pumpkin. that is a plus. And Aishwarya Rai in the most honest portrayal of her lifetime... as a beautiful but exceedingly dumb girl. there is nothing remotely resembling intelligence in anything she does or says. She can pass an exam only by cheating and doesn't for one instance worry about the ethical issues and is not even good at it. If she wears an ear piece, it doesn't matter that chitti is a robot with an inbuilt transciever. a man sitting outside and talking on the mobile phone would be just as useful. meaning it is not hi-tech bit. vasool raja has already done it. (is there anything about her, other than her looks that could have possibly attracted a brilliant scientist like vaseegaran? i'm amazed how one-dimensional women in most cinema are. this is commodification of women as eye-candy and should have no place in any movie that considers itself pushing boundaries)

I don't wish to nitpick but chitti is called an Android Humanoid or Andro-Humanoid in some scenes. Android means 'like human'. Same as Humanoid. Calling the robot Android Humanoid is redundant, like saying 'sunrise dawn'.

Chitti cuts the hand of a police constable and Ash, a medical student does not offer to bandage his hand but joins the fleeing. Where is the humanity, the compassion? But then, what else do u expect from someone who has no qualms about cheating in an exam? come to think of it, how are we to expect a scientist who does not even respect a No Parking sign, and who instead of helping an injured man runs from a scene, to be in charge of something as colossal and earth-shattering as Artificial Intelligence.

The ethical issues surrounding AI is astounding. just google ethics + artificial intelligence and u will see so many serious people try to wrap their heads around this inscrutable issue. and it is not unimportant to the plot twist in the movie... namely what stops the robot from turning against its masters and beginning to kill humans randomly. Robots are not immoral, they are amoral in that they have no innate moral compass. There is one mention of Asimov's 3 laws of robotics but no convincing reason for foregoing it. Such an important basis of everything that happens in the movie and the three laws are not even explained (so non-tech people can understand what it is and why it is necessary).

The movie itself goes into that territory when chitti says that Vaseegaran is God. are humans allowed to play God? What are the consequences, intended and unintended of it? Frankenstein, written almost 200 years ago deals with it. should we be allowed to clone humans? should we be allowed to create robots which can think for themselves? there is only one guy who opposes it, the professor. and it is bcoz he is jealous. and wants to sell the idea to terrorists. so are we to understand that anyone opposing AI is a terrorist enabler and there are no reasonable objections to playing God?

The robotics conference where chitti is unveiled is perhaps the lowest point in the movie. let's suspend our disbelief for one moment and excuse the conference being in tamil. that is not my beef with it... the first Artifical Intelligent being has been created. it is the single most wonderful scientific achievement since we landed on the moon. and to show its capability it dances. that is what we want AI for.... to dance better than humans. and the questions asked of the robot??? now, everyone is raving about how unafraid shankar was to use scientific jargon... the questions asked include something about Fibonacci number and largest Prime number that a pre-pentium 486 computer could do. there is nothing great about it. u type the number and it will give u the address. identifying a raaga, now that requires a degree of intelligence. but everything else is plain bullshit to give the appearance of high-technology. shankar could have asked the top 100 scientists in india what they would like to ask a super-human robot if one existed? instead he writes dialogue like a 12th standard kid with marginal interest in science.

The other robots that are already in the lab, Chitti-predecessors with limited ability, could be shown to help the vaseegaran with design and fabrication, like the robot in Iron Man. or the one in Flubber. instead it brings coffee and flowers. and that's it. it does nothing else in the movie. there is nothing else in the lab or in his life that are different from yours and mine. there are no talking doors. no fridge that compiles shopping list. lights that dim itself when the mood is romantic. tv that turns on without a remote by voice command. cars that automatically maintain a distance from other cars and other obstacles. wardrobe that chooses clothes. robots that give haircut. mobile phones that automatically picks the call and has a conversation with the caller. there is no robotic pet that can sit and wag its tail and run around the garden chasing butterflies. (it would have been a brilliant homage to Sujatha's Jeeno). for crying out loud, u have evil henchmen trying to rape the heroine and hero jumps on train to save her. this is how unimaginative it is. same thing we have seen in pre-MGR movies. with 180 million dollar worth graphics.

Another source of disappointment, santhanam and karunas. i can understand that comedy track is a necessary part of tamil cinema and u have to employ comedians, so that is fine. but why oh why should they do the thing that they did. Question for u -did u any point in the movie see them display any competency to be a research assistant at a groundbreaking research facility? bcoz i didn't. would they have been any different if they were auto drivers in baadshah or teakadai boys in a vijay movie? is it too much to ask to write a comedy track based on computer engineers? god knows it is not difficult. there is a deluge of popular tv shows that have nerds and nerd-centric comedy; Big bang theory, IT crowd, Chuck to name just a few. u can put big soda-butti to one of them, have them fall in love with a hottie and be totally socially inept. the jokes practically write themselves. nope... they have to get kicked in the nuts, eat biriyani pottalam and drink quarter and swear in cheri tamil. cutting edge cinema.

This is what i call the scarcity of imagination. so many easy and obvious things to fix it. have it play chess. the world number 1 in chess is a tamilian. have the robot defeat viswanathan anand. bring chess to the kids. make it popular. and show how much more intelligent it is than the most intelligent human. make it cross a busy mambalam road and show how many gigabytes of calculation is needed just to do that. how many variables, how much process? for something that we take for granted. the movie talks about the super-human physical ability of the robot to withstand heat or create electromagnetic beams or run and jump... what about the super-human intelligence. doesn't shankar have any idea what an intelligent person would look like or what he would do? reading 1000 books without opening them is not what intelligence is about. memorising a telephone directory is not intelligence. quoting from some vedic text is not intelligence. google search will do that. can it think? can it solve crosswords and puzzles? can it understand string theory? can it explain unanswered questions about the cosmos? can it find a cure for cancer? can it predict weather? can it do humanly impossible things? can it appreciate art? art is an abstract concept that requires higher order thinking. we ourselves don't understand how we understand art or why there is art at all. Don't tell me it delivered a baby. performing surgery is not intelligence. robots are already assisting surgeries and can do micrometer precision incisions. since shankar doesn't know intelligence, natural or otherwise he cannot depict it on the screen. this is unimaginative writing. for years we have complained that we don't have the film-making technology and/or money to make such a movie. now we have technology and we made endhiran.

The first Terminator movie came out in 1984 - 26 years before Endhiran. And this movie doesn't do half of what the movie achieved in terms of making people's eyes go big with awe and wonder aloud... "Is this our future? are the computers going to take over the world?" we can claim that laymen cannot understand if it is more technical and he had to dumb it down to make it accessible for all. there is a problem with that. there is a patriotic claim that we are all smart people and the westerners are stupid. we are good in math and science. we have higher than average IQs. we are better than them. we invented maths when they were running around naked. we invented algebra and trigonometry. so on and so forth. and Terminator is 26 years old. either we are a smart lot and the movies don't reflect it. or we are stupid as a nation and need dull tripe like endhiran. u can choose whichever option. i am an intelligent person and i feel insulted (and just to assure u that this is not anti-indian prejudice, i hated Eat Pray Love and there is more than enough bullshit that comes from hollywood).

I am waiting for the next guillermo del toro or tim burton or stanley kubrick to come from india and until then i will continue to trash movies. (thought experiment: imagine watching Enthiran with someone, say, a moderately intelligent foreigner, who has no history with Rajini or Shankar movies. I did and I can tell you they laughed their ass off at how embarrassingly ridiculous it was)

Why is this important? it is just a movie. it is not important at all except that it is. many people may lack the opportunity to see the world and be exposed to genuine works. they can think sujatha is among the greatest science fiction writers (if only he had been translated in English) or that shankar's endhiran is at the vanguard of cinema about android robots. But the sad fact is, our best is not even close to the best in the world.

I am afraid people choose to be the proverbial frogs in a well, deciding that there is nothing better outside the well. Not everybody can but those who can, should choose to read, travel, watch and expand their horizons. Not be content with the best rock in the well.

Moral of the story: one should not be satisfied with 'at least it is better than vijay movies'. mediocrity is not a virtue. contentment is not good enough. aspire for more.

-Written by Karthik Ramakrishnan, Australia

1 comment:

Shankar said...

Hmmm...I have not been blogging for over 7-8 months now due to variety of reasons including laziness. Look for a detailed reply to this post soon @

Karthik - Howz it going?