I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Konkani, Nepali, Khasi, Dogri, Garo and other languages.
Chitti, the robot Dr. Vaseegaran (Vasi) created in the film Endhiran was perfect. He was his master’s voice. There is a scene when Vasi defends him to his assistants Shiva (Santhanam) and Ravi (Karunas), “He does not lie. He is not a human being.” Dr. Bhora, Vasi’s boss (Denny Denzongpa) persuades the panel that is supposed to approve Chitti’s use in the army to reject him, because he is just a machine, and cannot differentiate between right and wrong.
Endhiran, directed by Shankar is basically a story about the difference between a human being and a robot. There is no difference from where I stand because it all depends on society. We are taught things and attitude. We don’t acquire them at birth. Chitti was perfect, like a new born child, which loves anybody it sees regularly.
It does not know that the nanny belongs to an English lower caste system and that it is destined for Oxford or Cambridge. A child in the United States or South Africa does not know that it is white and the nanny black. This crystallizes over time when it sees how the nanny is treated.
Chitti was also perfect until Vasi programmed human feelings into him. Contrary to popular opinion, human feelings are not perfect. They are about love yes, but they are also about hate, jealousy, superiority, murder and war, the central theme in Endhiran.
Hand Grenade vs Red Rose
This is quite obvious in the scene where Vasi hacks Chitti to death because he deliberately botched his evaluation at the military because he doesn’t want to go to war, thus destroying Vasi’s dream. Worse still, Chitti has fallen in love with his girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). I found that scene quite disturbing because Vasi created Chitti for the army, in order to prevent loss of human life.
But here we are, he senselessly attacks Chitti like what we read about in the paper where a man pumps 26 bullets into another human being, or stabs him 20 times. In some countries women are stoned to death or burnt alive. Chitti keeps pleading even when he is on his knees. “I want to live. I love Sana.’
Shankar, Endhiran’s director decided to mix and match technology and true life to introduce feelings into Chitti. Vasi the scientist re-programmes him but also takes him around where he sees a baby crying, showing respect for elders and a cremation.
Shankar also breaks some rules. Sana lives with her mother in a house which has rainbow colours because all the women there wear bright saris. Sana tells Chitti that they are widows. They would be wearing white in real life. There is even a young pregnant widow whose husband died in combat.
She has complications during childbirth and Chitti comes to the rescue. I wonder how the Indian Medical Association will receive Endhiran because the film raises some serious medical and ethical issues. The woman is in pain because the umbilical cord is around the baby’s neck.
Chitti says he can save the baby. The doctor-in-charge says he cannot because he is not a doctor. Chitti says he can because he helped Sana study for her exams (how Chitti studies, is another matter). Chitti saves mother and child. Sana kisses him on the cheek for that and Chitti is in love. He now sees Vasi, his creator as a rival, something Dr. Bhora warned Vasi about.
Robot is not a man
The director also uses Vasi’s two assistants Shiva and Ravi to needle Chitti. They constantly remind him that he is a piece of metal. They are jealous when girls crowd around him after the conference. They tell the girls to go with them because they have something Chitti doesn’t have. Chitti asks his creator Vasi, what it is. When Chitti kidnaps Sana, he tells her not to worry because he has created something that will give her a child.
The dump site scene also points a finger at society. Dr. Bhora goes to the dump site to look for Chitti, who is fighting for his life in the muck and grime of all that thrash. I felt guilty looking at it because I’m also responsible for that rubbish. I buy things because I’m hungry and because I have to cover my body but I seldom think about where the cans, plastic, old shoes, radios and computer screens go to, once I throw them away.
I was a doubting Thomas when I screened Endhiran because I’m still looking for one million original films and I feel that producers should finance untold stories. We can then have stories about flying men after that. Shankar anticipated that and gave us a film that forces us to look at our ‘perfect’ self which is far from perfect. I could not believe it when I went back to the theatre for the second time to see Endhiran.
“Happy Diwali folks,” as Chitti would say.
Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.