Reportedly the most expensive Indian pic ever, “Endhiran — The Robot” provides maximum bang for its reported $34 million budget with a sensationally overstated and overwhelming mash-up of American-style, f/x-driven sci-fi spectacle and exuberant Bollywood-style songs, dance and romance. It’s already a smash at home, having posted a muscular $22.5 million first-weekend gross, and has opened impressively in the U.S. and other markets where, as in India, the Tamil-language production also has been released in Hindi- and Telugu-dubbed versions. International marquee allure of superstar leads Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan can only enhance prospects for continued B.O. success.
Helmer S. Shankar, working from a crazy-quilt script he co-wrote with Karky Vairamuthu and the late Sujatha Rangarajan, riffs on everything from “Frankenstein” to “The Terminator.” Pic follows the misadventures of dedicated scientist Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth), who rather cavalierly neglects Sana (Rai Bachchan), his stunning beautiful girlfriend, while obsessing over the creation of a humanoid robot who looks just like him (and also is portrayed by Rajinikanth).
The mechanical marvel, named Chitti by the scientist’s proud mom, is intended as a prototype for robot warriors that will replace human soldiers. But Chitti proves to be a lover, not a fighter, after Vaseegaran — following the advice of Mr. Bohra (Danny Denzongpa), his not-entirely-trustworthy mentor — infuses the robot’s digital brain with human-style emotions.
Unfortunately, the newly humanized Chitti falls hard for Sana. Vaseegaran does not appreciate having a romantic rival, even a mechanical one, so he disassembles his creation. But with a little help from Mr. Bohra, Chitti returns to fully functioning life and creates an army of lookalike robot allies in order to claim Sana, punish Vaseegaran and, in the process, kill several hundred soldiers, police officers and innocent bystanders.
The first half of “Endhiran” is pretty much standard-issue Bollywood fare, with spirited musicvideo-style production numbers, including a fair share of electronica dance beats by composer A.R. Rahman, sporadically interrupting the familiar masala of melodrama, romance and broadly played farce. (Latter element calls for shameless mugging and mischief by vet comic relievers Karunas and Santhanam.) The big difference here is the inclusion of f/x-laden action scenes, with a battle royale between Chitti and hostile thugs aboard a speeding train repping the standout sequence.
Post-intermission, the spectacle becomes ever more elaborate, with Chitti blasting his way through swaths of constabulary during a high-speed auto chase, and eventually posing progressively larger threats to public safety.
Throughout all the sound and fury, Rai Bachchan is never less than immensely likable and drop-dead gorgeous, while Rajinikanth neatly differentiates between his dual roles. (It may or may not be intended as a running gag, but Rajinikanth’s coiffure and costumes as Chitti suggest a late-period Elvis Presley, especially during the robot’s song-and-dance sequences with Sana.) Not surprisingly, the pic politely ignores the sometimes glaring age difference between the two leads.
With invaluable assists from personnel imported from Hollywood and Hong Kong — including martial-arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, costume designer Mary E. Vogt (whose experience with “Inspector Gadget” and “Men in Black” doubtless served her well here) and visual effects wizards from Stan Winston Studios — Shankar’s audacious entertainment may well startle even those ticketbuyers accustomed to the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink excess of contemporary Indian commercial fare.