Category Archives: Entertainment

Kahaani – Compact, Competent, Compelling

There are so many things to like about Kahaani, not the least of which is the movie’s setting in Calcutta, sorry, Kolkata. Name change notwithstanding, the city seems much the same to someone who left it 20 years ago –claustrophobic but convivial and female-friendly. Director Sujoy Ghosh treats Kolkata and its denizens with familiarity and affection, and I could sense the many Bengali viewers in my local multiplex just settling down in their seats a little more comfortably as the movie rolled on. It is such a pleasure, and a rarity, to watch a Bollywood movie that has no Punjabi characters and North Indian settings.
Kahaani tells the story of a very pregnant Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi (“Bidda Bagchi” to locals) who arrives in the city looking for her missing husband. To share much more would be to reveal a plot that the writer (also Ghosh) has taken great pains to craft for maximum surprise and shock value. As the movie unfolds she is helped in her search by cops and civilians all sympathetic to her condition more than her plight. For those squeamish of sad endings involving kids (present and unborn) Kahaani has a very satisfying denouement.
Vidya Balan is great in the Ashley Judd-style role (oops, did I reveal something?) of Vidya Bagchi. She is helped by Ghosh’s deft little human touches in what is a by-the-numbers thriller.( I mean that as a compliment, by the way; it isn’t easy to execute a perfect suspense drama, and Ghosh succeeds admirably.) Balan’s interactions with the little kids reveals the glow in her smile and when she dons the Korial lal paar sari (I hope I am getting it right) for Durga Puja, she is the classic Indian beauty that we loved in Parineeta.  As the sole lead, she is ably supported by a cast of mostly old-time character actors with familiar faces and forgettable names.
Kahaani is deftly edited, though one senses many scenes layering character and adding depth were left on the floor to preserve the tight pacing. Or maybe they were deliberate red herrings. For instance, the cabbie who takes Vidya from the airport to the Kalighat police station seems very friendly and even gives her his number. He is never seen again. Was this just a loose end? There are many such moments in the film that peter out but, to Ghosh’s credit, they do not distract.
The soundtrack by Vishal-Shekhar is great, though only Amitabh Bachchan’s rendering of  Tagore’s “Ekla Cholo Re” makes it into the movie – it is just beautiful, though, and AB’s sonorous voice does it full justice.
Ghosh, who also directed the underappreciated Aladin (so sue me!), has clearly evolved as a director who understands the importance of drama. One of my biggest issues with the pleasant but rather tame Jhankaar Beats was the lack of that slightly larger-than-life element that makes a good theater movie, and that shortcoming is completely eliminated in Kahaani.
Other reviewers have commented on the unapologetic display of the pregnant female body and Ghosh’s preoccupation with motherhood (Juhi Chawla’s pregnant Shanti is the calm center of Jhankaar Beats) but Kahaani is not meant to be introspected on too much. Enjoy it for what it is – a gripping home-grown thriller that avoids all the stereotypes of anti-terrorism movies “inspired” by Hollywood. There are no high tech toys, no larger than-life villains, and no sexy foreign locales. Just good, solid entertainment and total paisa vasool.

KahaaniThere are so many things to like about Kahaani, not the least of which is the movie’s setting in Calcutta, sorry, Kolkata. Name change notwithstanding, the city seems much the same to someone who left it 20 years ago—claustrophobic but convivial and female-friendly. Director Sujoy Ghosh treats the city and its denizens with familiarity and affection, and I could sense the many Bengali viewers in my local multiplex just settling down in their seats a little more comfortably as the movie rolled on. It is such a pleasure, and a rarity, to watch a Bollywood movie that has no Punjabi characters or North Indian settings.

Kahaani tells the story of a very pregnant Vidya Venkatesan Bagchi (“Bidda Bagchi” to locals) who arrives in the city looking for her missing husband. To share much more would be to reveal a plot that the writer (also Ghosh) has taken great pains to craft for maximum surprise and shock value. As the movie unfolds she is helped in her search by cops and civilians  sympathetic more to her condition  than her plight. For those squeamish of sad endings involving kids (present and unborn) Kahaani has a very satisfying denouement.

Vidya Balan is great in the Ashley Judd-style role (oops, did I reveal something?) of Vidya Bagchi. She is helped by Ghosh’s little human touches in what is a by-the-numbers thriller.( I mean that as a compliment, by the way; it isn’t easy to execute a perfect suspense drama, and Ghosh succeeds admirably.) Balan’s interactions with the little kids reveals the glow in her smile, and when she dons the Korial lal paar sari (I hope I am getting it right) for Durga Puja, she is the classic Indian beauty that we loved in Parineeta.  As the sole lead, she is ably supported by a cast of character actors, several of whom have familiar faces and forgettable names.

Kahaani is deftly edited, though one senses that some scenes layering character and adding depth were left on the floor to preserve the tight pacing. Or maybe they were deliberate red herrings. For instance, the cabbie who takes Vidya from the airport to the Kalighat police station seems very friendly and even gives her his number. He is never seen again. Was this just a loose end? There are many such moments in the film that peter out but, to Ghosh’s credit, they do not distract.

The soundtrack by Vishal-Shekhar is great, though only Amitabh Bachchan’s rendering of  Tagore’s “Ekla Cholo Re” makes it into the movie – it is beautiful and AB’s sonorous voice does it full justice  (at least to this non-Bengali!).

Ghosh, who also directed the underappreciated Aladin (so sue me!), has clearly evolved into a director who understands the importance of drama. One of my biggest issues with the pleasant but rather tame Jhankaar Beats was the lack of that slightly larger-than-life element that makes a good theater movie. Kahaani makes up for that in spades.

Other reviewers have commented on the unapologetic display of the pregnant female body and Ghosh’s preoccupation with motherhood (Juhi Chawla’s pregnant Shanti is the calm centre of Jhankaar Beats). The setting of the climax during  Durga Puja also invokes a certain symbolism (again, saying anything beyond would spoil the suspense) but Kahaani is not meant to be introspected on too much. Enjoy it for what it is – a gripping home-grown thriller that avoids all the stereotypes of anti-terrorism movies “inspired” by Hollywood. There are no high tech toys, no larger than-life villains, and no sexy foreign locales. Just good, solid entertainment and total paisa vasool. Is it as good as A Wednesday? Almost. Almost.

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu – Nothing Happens in Vegas

Watching EMAET is like ordering a dish from a restaurant menu based on the glowing description and the fancy ingredients, and then finding out they forgot the salt.
The not-rom-com about a stuffed shirt and the free-spirited girl who loosens him up tries very, very hard to please. Debutant director Shakun Batra assembles his ingredients and creates a recipe in textbook fashion –
Get experience in successful contemporary Bollywood movies like Jaane Tu.. (second assistant director) and Rock On (first assistant director)
Put together an A-list cast (Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor) that has never been paired before
Get the mighty budget and avuncular blessing of Dharma Productions (Karan Johar’s studio)
Pick up-and-coming composer Amit Trivedi (Dev D, Wake Up Sid) to compose the film’s score
Co-write a light and fluffy popcorn plot that is squarely aimed at the multiplex metrosexual crowd.
If following a recipe was that easy, I guess we would all be Julia Childs by now.
It’s not that the movie is bad, it’s just blah. The script just doesn’t have good lines in it, and Imran’s tortured Hindi diction just keeps reminding you that people in Mumbai speak (and THINK) primarily in English these days – the dialogues feel translated. Kareena’s role is just a shade underacted (mercifully) from her Geet character in Jab We Met. As other reviewers have commented, the lead pair has no chemistry, but this may have been deliberate (as you will see if you stick around to the end of the movie). The songs are hummable, but Amit Trivedi’s serious musical chops have been defanged and blandified by the power of THE BIG BUCKS. Listening to “Gubbare,” it is hard to believe this pleasant pap (yes, that’s spelt right) was the offspring of the same man who composed the powerful and defiant “Pardesi.”
And why Las Vegas? The thrumming city with its one-armed bandits, smoke-filled gambling rooms, and sordid underbelly is completely whitewashed into a G-rated yuppie heaven with carnival rides complete with stuffed toys and popcorn, and wide roads leading to scenic vistas. What the heck? If unsuspecting parents take their bachchas to LV for a nice family vacation after watching EMAET, they can bill the movie makers for the resultant therapy needs. If a quickie marriage had to be contrived, surely there were other ways to go about it than set the movie in a city where everybody feels out of place. When the movie shifts to Mumbai post interval, it perks right up, as if it has come back home from a vacation that didn’t go well. (and how would it, since we went to Las Vegas, and all we got for it was an animal hat.) The writers throw the “sex” word around a few times to show how grown-up they are, but you can sense their heart isn’t in it – this is, in fact, a family movie and parents can easily deflect any awkward questions that may arise.
If you must watch this movie, wait for the DVD..you’ll feel a lot less cheated if you pay 2 bucks instead of 40 for the same dish, even though it is cold.

emaetWatching EMAET is like ordering a dish from a restaurant menu based on the glowing description and the fancy ingredients, and then finding out they forgot the salt.

The not-rom-com about a stuffed shirt and the free-spirited girl who loosens him up tries very, very hard to please. Debutant director Shakun Batra assembles his ingredients and creates a recipe in textbook fashion –

Get experience in successful contemporary Bollywood movies like Jaane Tu.. (second assistant director) and Rock On (first assistant director)

Put together an A-list cast (Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor) that has never been paired before

Get the mighty budget and avuncular blessing of Dharma Productions (Karan Johar’s studio)

Pick up-and-coming composer Amit Trivedi (Dev D, Wake Up Sid) to compose the film’s score

Co-write a light and fluffy popcorn plot that is squarely aimed at the multiplex metrosexual crowd.

If following a recipe was that easy, I guess we would all be Julia Childs by now.

It’s not that the movie is bad, it’s just blah. The script just doesn’t have good lines in it, and Imran’s tortured Hindi diction just keeps reminding you that people in Mumbai speak (and THINK) primarily in English these days – the dialogues feel translated. Kareena’s role is identical,  just a shade underacted (mercifully,) from her Geet character in Jab We Met. As other reviewers have commented, the lead pair has no chemistry, but this may have been deliberate (as you will see if you stick around to the end of the movie). The songs are hummable, but Amit Trivedi’s serious musical chops have been defanged and blandified by the power of THE BIG BUCKS. Listening to “Gubbare,” it is hard to believe this pleasant pap (yes, that’s spelt right) was the offspring of the same man who composed the powerful and defiant “Pardesi.”

And why Las Vegas? The thrumming city with its one-armed bandits, smoke-filled gambling rooms, and sordid underbelly is completely whitewashed into a G-rated yuppie heaven with carnival rides complete with stuffed toys and popcorn, and wide roads leading to scenic vistas. What the heck? If unsuspecting parents take their bachchas to LV for a nice family vacation after watching EMAET, they can bill the movie makers for the resultant therapy needs. If a quickie marriage had to be contrived, surely there were other ways to go about it than set the movie in a city where everybody feels out of place. When the movie shifts to Mumbai post interval, it perks right up, as if it has come back home from a vacation that didn’t go well. (And how would it, since we went to Las Vegas, and all we got for it was an animal hat?) The writers throw the “sex” word around a few times to show how grown-up they are, but you can sense their heart isn’t in it – this is, in fact, a family movie and parents can easily deflect any awkward questions that may arise.

If you must watch this movie, wait for the DVD..you’ll feel a lot less cheated if you pay 2 bucks instead of 40 for the same dish, even though it is cold.

Delhi Belly: Crude But Funny

delhi bellyThe first thing that strikes me about Delhi Belly is its stylistic resemblance to Guy Ritchie’s movies; sure enough, I read later about Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Smoking Barrels being the inspiration for this film written by Los Angeles resident Akshat Varma.

Varma brings a crisp, international feel to the story of three juvenile roommates in a dingy Delhi one-roomer who inadvertently get involved in a search for a babushka doll containing diamonds. Their madcap adventures around Delhi make for many laugh-out-loud moments, though when the tagline of a movie is “Shit Happens,” one doesn’t expect quite such a literal interpretation.

Delhi Belly belongs to the post-modern Indian film movement inhabited by movies like Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey, though it is much lighter fare; think Ben Stiller in a Tarantino movie. Disastrous events like a roof collapse and a claustrophobic gun fight in an enclosed hotel room are dealt with breezily. There seems to be an implicit understanding between the movie and the audience that none of the principal characters will come to any harm and that the bad guys will get their just desserts. This makes it possible to enjoy the dramatic moments without stress, though it also makes you care less about the characters.

It is a also tad annoying when you see Indian stereotypes being exploited, like the ball-scratching street vendor, but Delhi Belly more than makes up for it with the crackling dialogues, entirely in English, but also very grounded in Indian situational humor, not an easy feat to achieve. Director Abhinay Deo, who also directed the stylish but poorly written Game, does a first class job with a much better script, though mainstream audiences will blanch at the constant swearing and casual sex.

I was surprised to find many Indian English films on Wikipedia, though they are largely art films or productions outside in India. But the language feels comfortable and natural here, as do the sexual situations the characters are portrayed in. Like the characters in Monsoon Wedding, it is obvious that the trio of Tashi (Imran Khan), Arun (an excellent Vir Das), and Nitin (Kunaal Roy Kapoor) belong to the educated Delhi elite, and it is a reality of modern India that a whole generation is growing up in the metros without wanting to or needing to speak in the vernacular.

Aamir Khan, who produced DB, pushes the envelop again; with movies like Peepli Live and Delhi Belly, his production house is doing what NFDC used to do in my youth – support emerging filmmakers with innovative ideas who want to explore ideas outside mainstream Bollywood. He’s not the only one, but his presence is surely encouragement for all the other experimenters out there. Plus, the economics of multiplexes obviously makes it possible for these movies to be made – the existence of filmmakers like Dibaker Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap is proof of that.

In Delhi Belly’s case, I suspect much of the revenues would have accrued from the music rights way before the movie released – the songs are wacky, irreverent, and fun. “DK Bose” created an internet sensation when listeners realized what the words actually were when the chorus was repeated. Aamir makes an appearance before the end credits with the peppy item number “I Hate You (Like I Love You)” dressed as Austin Powers…it is a hilarious end to a funny movie.

With its expletive-ridden dialogue, crude humor, and casual sex scenes (no nudity though!) Delhi Belly is about as far from a “family movie” as you can get. If you like the genre, it is a worthy addition. But if what you look for from an Indian film is comforting escapism, this is not the ticket for you. While audiences in India might walk out of screenings, viewers in my local Union City multiplex were roaring with appreciative laughter and unwilling to leave their seats even after the credits started rolling.

Notice I said “Indian films.” DB makes it amply clear that it is time to shed the Bollywood tag. Jai Ho!

Dum Maaro Dum – Hindi films go Hollywood

DUM MAARO DUM. Director: Rohan Sippy. Players: Abhishek Bachchan, Prateik Babbar, Rana Daggubati, Aditya Panscholi. Music: Pritam. Background score: Midival Punditz. Writer: Shridhar Raghavan. Dialogue: Purva Naresh.

I saw Dum Maaro Dum at my local Cineplex last night and, for a change, the Hindi film felt right at home among the early summer releases that the Friday night crowds had thronged to.

Slick, glamorous, and frenetically paced, DMD has all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster – a terrific plot, great music, and the non-stop action that doesn’t leave the viewer any time to ponder the script’s absurdities or inconsistencies.

dum maaro dumWhen local student Lorry (Babbar) receives admission into a U.S. college but without financial aid, the Goan drug cartel sees an opportunity for a mule. After much persuasion Lorry consents, and lands at the international airport with his cocaine-laden bags. The next sequence introduces us to the “heroes” of the movie, and is worth the price of admission. Each character is battling demons, from newly- reformed ACP Vishnu Kamath (Bachchan) to the susegaad Joki (Daggubati), the networked but powerless singer.

Lorry becomes a hapless lever used by Kamath to shake up the Goan mafia in search of the elusive Michael Barbossa, a shadowy entity that appears to exercise control over the various international drug factions that have divided up Goa.

Crackling dialogue and crisp direction move the story along. The one-liners and cheeky references to Amitabh films (Mere paas maal hai!) elevate the film from a by-the-numbers underworld movie and provide comic relief to the grim proceedings. Sippy captures the sex, drugs, and rock and roll atmosphere of Goa perfectly without forcing it on the viewer; the playground of the world is beautiful, sinister, and charming at once. One scene, shot in only the ambient light of a starry night, is a testament to the world class cinematography of modern Bollywood.

Unfortunately, the ensemble cast is picked with an eye to mainstream audiences, exposing the shallowness of Bollywood talent. But Babbar’s turn as the beleaguered Lorry is memorable; he manages to erase the memory of the humble Munna from Dhobi Ghat and the insouciant Amit from Jaane Tu with a sterling performance as the misguided teenager. Daggubati is eye candy and has the most sympathetic role of the lot; the actor from the South makes an impressive debut. Bachchan is competent, but he seems to playing variations of the same role –the suave crime-stopper- in every movie. If he has any plans of salvaging his career, he needs to step away from Bollywood and search out the offbeat indie directors who can give him a new lease on life.

As a gangster flick, comparisons to Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey or Ram Gopal Verma’s Company are inevitable but unfair. DMD has a visual and story-telling style of its own, and makes no bones about being nothing more than a commercial, paisa vasool, time-pass entertainer. It lacks the mad genius of Bharadwaj or the gritty realism of Verma, but it is an unpretentious, highly entertaining piece of work on its own.

As with Kaminey, the director is unable to resist providing a quasi-happy ending for his characters-are Indian audiences not ready for the messy realities of life?

Tanu Weds Manu – Not bad

tanu weds manuIt is a tribute to “India Shining” that the latest popular “away” location for the Hindi film industry is not Switzerland or Mauritius, but the semi-urban environs of North India, where the regional patois offers as much authenticity as the Mumbaiyya Hindi dialect. There’s been a rash of movies based in the North recently, like Dev D., Delhi 6, and of course, Band Baja Baraat, which made stars of two very ordinary looking people by focusing on a tight script, clean editing, and the colorful North Indian wedding ethos.

TWM attempts to cash in on BBB’s success by hewing to the same formula. The script is crisp, the language salty, and the plot heavily depends on the raucous chaos of an Indian wedding.

Despite the tradition it seeks to exploit, TWM’s wedding celebrations are more Monsoon Wedding than Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. In a clever nod to the changing times, we have Tanu (Kangana Ranaut), a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking Kanpur girl who sole raison d’etre is to rebel, but who is, nevertheless, adored by her hapless parents. Her antics only endear her to Manu (Madhavan), a London doctor in town to get married by his parents.

Much plot-twisting happens before the two get together in classic filmy ishtyle at the end.

Indian filmmakers (at least some of them) seem to have woken up to the fact that a good script and screenplay can achieve decent box office returns and have the advantage of being able to keep costs down by reducing the need for star power. TWM chugs along briskly, with excellent turns by the accompanying ensemble cast. There are a couple of holes in the logic, but the pace keeps you from pondering them too long. But if the movie is representative of the social mores in India today, boy, have things changed. Tanu is obviously sexually experienced, but this fact appears to be a mere footnote in the proceedings, daunting neither her parents nor her suitors. Kya baat hai! If it wasn’t for the fact that there are still incidences of honor killings of caste-crossed lovers in India, I could almost believe the premise.

Where the movie stumbles is in the casting of Ranaut as the feisty, trash-talking Tanu. Ranaut has a chameleon-like ability to blend into her movies physically, so that her look here is a 180-degree turn from the drug addicted model in Fashion, but her voice modulation is just awful. And, let’s face it, she cannot do “chulbuli.” Her talents are much better suited to the dramatic roles that have been her forte so far. One can see why she would seek out a role that would stretch her as an actress, but she is just not right for this role. Kareena Kapoor’s turn as the irrepressible Geet in Jab We Met somewhat approximates the Tanuja Trivedi character, and while that performance was not exactly award-worthy, Ranaut as Tanu falls far below even this standard, and drags the movie down. Madhavan, on his part, is endearing as the lovelorn Manu, and his lack of charisma doesn’t affect the movie much.

Another plot weakness is the denouement. Without spoiling it for the reader, let me say that Tanu’s volte face in the final moments is quite unbelievable and I wouldn’t give the new relationship a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. The rapid turn of events in the climax leave a slightly sour taste in what should have been a fairy-tale ending.

Still, TWM is a pleasant watch for the most part. Director Aanand Rai puts in some clever touches, like the sangeet performed to the oldie “Kajra Mohabbat Wala,” and the supporting cast, led by Swara Bhaskar as Tanu’s clear-headed friend Payal, is excellent. Krsna’s music is pleasant, with touches of the Hindustani semi-classical tradition. Watch TWM on a good, legal print on DVD when you’re in the mood for a nice Bollywood film.

Guzaarish: the tears refused to be jerked!

Guzaarish-Movie-Review

By Rohini Mohan

Guzaarish is another larger than life, flamboyant, grandiose offering of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.  Like all his productions, it seems more like a play than a movie. I enjoy high pathos, but I am not generous enough to call this one a tearjerker.

Hrithik plays Ethan, a quadriplegic, who petitions for the right to die. Sofia (Aishwarya), is his stony faced nurse and Omar(Aditya Roy Kapur)  is his apprentice.

The film is set in Goa and at first you have the unreal feeling of being transported back to the early 1900s- mainly because of Ash’s dreadful costume. With her ankle length red, white, and black skirt and blouse and outlandish jewelry  she looks like she is ready to dance the flamenco any moment (she actually does, in one surreal scene.)

However, I will say that, other than looking like a Gitana with moon eyes and garish red lipstick, the role suited Ash – it needed someone wooden and she delivered. I would question her very relevance to the plot, but will refrain. Movies do need to sell after all.

The house is a bhoot bangla in the boonies; apparently you can get to it only by boat, except when it does not suit the director. Ethan is an RJ and broadcasts from the relative comfort of his bedroom, because of course he has not left the house in 14 years since his accident. (When will we stop making these obtuse references to Chaudah saal ka banwas?)

The doctor, lawyer, and apprentice are all impossible characters – none that you actually come to love, mainly because of the consistently sub-par performances.  Nafisa Ali, on the other hand is absolutely wonderful in her brief cameo role as Ethan’s mother. She has aged with dignity and grace and remains the powerful performer she always was. Her short monologue was probably the only part worth shedding a few tears over.

Hrithik was…well good, I admit, albeit reluctantly, the reason being some moments where I believe he forgot exactly what disability he was portraying and appeared positively maniacal. However, he is, needless to say an extremely talented dancer and an equally talented singer. His rendering of “What a Wonderful World” was quite beautiful. Mercifully, he kept his shirt on.

The theme is euthanasia (or “Ethanasia,”  if you will) which if treated right could make a powerful and poignant story. I have seen it handled much more creatively and effectively in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.

The worst casualty of the movie was subtlety. What happened to symbolism and the art of suggestion?  What happened to saying something without shoving it down your throat? I have seen Mili, and Anand, and Million Dollar Baby and countless other movies which utilized these subtle techniques and made me cry buckets. Sorry Sanjay, you pressed and you pressed on my tear ducts, but they would not give.

Good music, lovingly photographed. Ok for all ages.

Do Androids Dream of Item Numbers?

endhiran-poster2As writer Grady Hendrix puts it in this awesome profile, superstar Rajnikanth is a force of nature. Despite never having seen a previous Tamil movie of the man, I put aside precious time this weekend to go see Enthiran in the theater, bravely casting aside the protection of my trusty remote control, knowing I would be stuck in the theater for three hours, unable to fast-forward unwanted scenes and songs.

The movie, which has created hysteria in the otherwise sanguine Indian diaspora, lives up to its hype at first. As we watch Dr. Vasigaran build a robot (technically an android) in his image, the special effects measure up to international standards. Even Rajni’s makeup is marvelous, making the 60-year-old grandfather’s romance with the lovely Ms. Bachchan way more credible and way less creepy than it should have been.

It’s easy to see why fans are crazy about this humble bus conductor from Bangalore. There’s a cheekiness in Rajni’s portrayal of both Vasi and the robot Chitti that suggests the actor is in on the joke—it’s all a big spectacle for the audience’s benefit and not one bit’s meant to be taken seriously. (Memorable lyrics to Rahman’s peppy numbers include comparing the heroine to honey-soaked wasabi, for the express purpose of rhyming with gulabi (rose)).

As Vasi delivers his quips with panache, and Chitti the robot breaks into bharatanatyam moves, the audience claps and howls in appreciation. Even the plot moves along at a fairly crisp clip, as the good doctor enhances his robot to make it more and more humanoid. There’s plenty of opportunity for situational comedy arising from the robot’s literal interpretation of language, and there are a couple of bumbling sidekicks thrown in for good measure. The yawning cultural gap between East and West is never more apparent as when it is revealed that the robot is built for the express purpose of being used in the military, usually the point in Hollywood movies where the hero gasps and resolves to liberate the lovable machine from its nefarious destiny. Instead, the villain in Enthiran has a far simpler, ethically unquestionable motive for stealing the robot; he just wants to sell it for megabucks.

At intermission, an hour and a half later, Chitti has been programmed to have feelings, and the plot has been set up for an exploration of what it means to be human, previously tackled in movies like the darkly thrilling Blade Runner and the sentimental Bicentennial Man.

Except for the unfortunate circumstance that this is a Tamil movie with an apparently bottomless budget.

The second half of Enthiran goes completely haywire, as director Shankar indulges in what can only be his fevered adolescent fantasy of more and more improbable special effects, culminating in an orgy of Chitti clones that stack like Lego pieces to form shapes that the zombie priest in The Mummy would be proud of. The internal logic that exists in the first half (yes, I can live with a futuristic Chennai, even if the cops don’t seem to have evolved) just vanishes in the second, with every scene prompting the question “Why?”

Then there are the dozen or so song and dance sequences, filmed in baffling international locales, with Bachchan gamely peacocked up in bizarre outfits that would have made Telegu heroines from the 80s proud. My thumb furiously savages the cell phone in my hand, vainly searching for the fast forward button.

Only the 20 bucks I have paid for my ticket prevents me from leaving the theater (I believe ticket prices were as high as 30 dollars in some places). The ending, which arrives after about the 500th time I check my watch, is amazingly tame, glossing over the fact that the body count numbers in the tsunamis, and that the robot has destroyed property and technology worth the equivalent of current Indian GDP.

In the end, Enthiran is just a special effects indulgence, sprinkled with enough genuine Rajni to keep the fans coming. It is easy to see why the actor is so beloved; even in the stupidest of scenes he plays it straight and true, with a sincerity and humility that is at odds with his fame.  Despite the challenging characterization and the double roles, the movie uses him and lets him down. Watch the entire movie only if you are a hardcore Rajni fan. If not, leave during intermission, content to have seen an ageing superstar still bring his A game.

Kid advisory: Not suitable for kids under 10.