Enthiran Explores the Promise of Technology Solving Humanity’s Problems
Enthiran is a 2010 Tamil film from S. Shankar starring Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rei in which the brilliant Dr. Vaseegaran creates a robot (an Enthiran, in Tamil) in his own image in a bid to further mankind. Rajinikanth plays both Dr. Vaseegaran as well as his robotic creation, dubbed “Chitti”. Aishwarya Rei plays Sana, Vaseegaran’s hot-and-cold medical student girlfriend. Like all Indian films, Enthiran contains a cornucopia of beautifully arranged scenes, costumes, and choreographed musical scenes. But more than other campy science fiction films, Enthiran is the stuff of a society’s aspirations.
Soon after Vaseegaran creates his fantastical robot Chitti, we begin to see that Chitti is a representation of all human technology, and that his creation is endowed with the hopes of mankind. Chitti quickly endears himself to Vaseegaran and the local community. Complete with the ability to speak, calculate, and perform any human physical function with perfect accuracy, Chitti is an extremely formidable piece of technology that everyone becomes quickly excited about.
Though Chitti’s ultimate purpose is to serve in the Indian military, Vaseegaran claims that he needs a few months to test Chitti beforehand. Of course, the first things that Vaseegaran puts Chitti up to are self-serving. Chitti does Vaseegaran’s laundry, haircut, nails, chauffeuring, photography, translation, movie projection, gardening, and more. This serves Vaseegaran’s rapidly expanding ego quite well, along with a honeymoon period that he shares with the ever-fickle Sana. The film’s commentary on male-female relations is also palpable: Sana is only attentive and affectionate to Vaseegaran when he is flush with money and power, whereas Vaseegaran has an entitled attitude to Sana and is easily miffed when she doesn’t behave in the way he wants.
Trouble in Tamil
At this point in Enthiran, it seems as though Chitti can do no wrong. This period of the film is the simplest imagining of new technology, wherein one person uses a piece of technology to solve relatively simple environmental problems. The meat of the film is not in the “wow factor” gadgetry or fantastical wish fulfillment, but rather what we can infer from the more serious uses of technology.
Through Chitti’s acts of aid, we get a view of what the Tamil society views as its problems. Chitti’s exploits are numerous, ranging from helping Sana achieve high marks on her medical student exams via cheating, to preventing a horde of mosquitoes from biting people, to saving her from a gang of young men on a train. Not content with being a hero once, Chitti also helps deliver an endangered pregnancy while at the hospital. In his spare time, Chitti helps to cook dinner at a women’s shelter while not being Vaseegaran’s servant. At this point in the film, Chitti is imagined to be the propagation and widespread adoption of the new technology that earlier was the privilege of the inventors and the wealthy alone. All of society now can benefit from the new technology, or so it is hoped.
Unfortunately, Chitti’s success as a community helper comes to an end while attempting to rescue people from a burning building. Diving into the top floor of a burning building to save a woman inside of her bathtub, Chitti neglects to give the woman any clothing. As the burning building sears away Chitti’s false flesh, the woman begs to be given a moment to put on some clothes. Rather than abide by her, Chitti merely remarks that he too is naked, with the remaining pieces of his flesh now burnt away, revealing his robotic skeleton underneath.
Chitti then scoops up the woman and jumps down to the safety outside, unceremoniously dumping the woman at his feet. Driven mad by the embarrassment of the neighborhood seeing her nude, the woman tries to run away from the crowd of onlookers, and is hit by a truck and killed. Thus begins Chitti’s fall from grace.
Clearly, Tamil society is concerned about the education of women, spread of infectious disease, women’s rights, instability, transportation shortage, military strength, and infant mortality. Chitti’s fall from grace begins the period in which people realize that he cannot live up to the hype that the heady days promised. Chitti’s military evaluation approaches. In his evaluation, Chitti nearly kills Vaseegaran because he was ordered to do so by Vaseegaran’s mentor, Dr. Bohra. Vaseegaran’s mentor takes the role as antagonist in stride, quickly plotting to sell the military his own version of military robots based off of Chitti. Vaseegaran goes back to the drawing board, and Chitti is denied clearance to operate in the military.
Chitti Jumps the Shark
The next sections of the film relate to the threat of technology being abused for violence and personal gain. While many were helped by Chitti, he was owned only by Vaseegaran and, perhaps, the military. Highly concentrated technological power stays away from the clutches of the public, instead lingering among the elite.
Though Chitti is extremely impressive, he cannot feel nor relate to human sensibilities. Vaseegaran seeks to solve this problem by giving Chitti emotions, hoping to allow him to differentiate friend from foe when in the military. Chitti is implanted with a chip that gives him the ability to process human emotions. After doing so, Chitti promptly develops a crush for Sana.
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Vaseegaran sees the problem of Chitti having emotions acutely when, during Chitti’s testing with the military, Chitti intentionally fails the testing because he cannot be with Sana. Completely disillusioned, Vaseegaran disassembles Chitti and discards him. Of course, Dr. Bohra resurrects Chitti, and proceeds to turn him into a ruthless killer and turn him against Vaseegaran.
The final sequences of the film are among the campiest, with Chitti copying himself into an army, fighting the police, and transforming into ever-more fantastical forms, eventually culminating in a giant cobra made out of Chittis. The police and military throw ever-increasing resources against the army of Chittis, and are brutally put down. Throughout the ridiculous sequences of the Chitti swarm, Vaseegaran works to disable Chitti, and eventually succeeds, after great destruction. Naturally, this sequence relates to the havoc that technology is capable of, even if it was useful in peace.
The film ends with Chitti as a living display inside of a museum many years later, representing a relic of the past repurposed as a warning to the present and future. The message of Enthiran is clear: technology, though extremely useful and tempting, must be treated with skepticism and used responsibly. It’s highly likely that Tamil won’t have to worry about robotic servants going out of control and rampaging across the countryside for a few more years, however.
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