Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Filmi Girl's Guide for Lazy American Journalists: Endhiran (Robot)

Every once in a while Indian films percolate up into the Western media consciousness and 99% of the time, the reaction is something like - “LOL! They are different from us and make no sense. LOL!” So, to stem the tide of ignorant articles about the upcoming Endhiran here is yet another of Filmi Girl’s Guides For Lazy American Journalists (TM)!

An FAQ for the uninitiated!

(You can read the previous installment for Kites here.)

So, you, Straw Person Journalist have been assigned to go see
Endhiran or at least to write about it. Why don't you ask me some questions!
Q: So, lol, this Bollywood movie is hilarious, right?

A: Actually,
Endhiran is not a Bollywood film - it is in Tamil. The Tamil language film industry is based in Chennai, not Mumbai, and is sometimes referred to as “Kollywood.” While we in the West sometimes like to view all popular Indian cinema as a monolith of song-dance called Bollywood, in reality, there are many regional movie industries and all of them more popular than Bollywood in their respective regions.
Endhiran is kind of unusual in that it is going to be released to all of India in a variety of dubbed version. It will be Robo in Telugu and Robot in Hindi. Your best chances of seeing a subtitled print are with the Hindi version, so please check your local listings carefully or call ahead to make sure your version is subtitled.
Q: Okay, so lol, this Tamil movie is hilarious, right? What is up with that old guy? Is he considered, like, really hot in India because that's messed up.

A: The star of
Endhiran is a phenomenon of cinema named Rajnikanth. There is no Hollywood equivalent to Rajnikanth, although you might come close if you imagine an all-powerful combination of Sly Stallone and Robert De Niro. Rajnikanth is a much-beloved, highly-respected actor who can still command a screen at the ripe old age of 61. Remember that movie The Expendables from this summer that had all those older action heroes in it? Do ladies find them hot? Maybe, maybe not. But they were undoubtedly charismatic and could definitely kick some butt. Think of Rajnikanth in the same way.

(And for more information that doesn't come from wikipedia, you might try
Bollystalgia's top Rajnikanth films blog post.)

Q: [taken verbatim from an American site, BTW] Robot is directed by Shankar (though it's such a common name I'm not 100% sure if this is the same Shankar who crafted the hugely popular 3 Idiots, though it seems like a reasonable bet). “

A: That is one bet you lose, my friend.
Endhiran is directed by Shankar but 3 Idiots was directed by Rajkumar Hirani, who also made Munnabhai MBBS (an excellent introduction to Bollywood if you are interested.) Shankar is known for making very mythic, very crazy, very good films, such as Anniyan, which I reviewed here.

Shankar was rumored to be directing the Tamil remake of
3 Idiots but who knows if that will happen.
Q: Dang, Aishwarya Rai is HOT!

A: Yes. Yes, she is. She has also matured into a very fine actress.
Q: So, this is like India’s first sci-fi movie, right?

A: Well, no, it’s not. There was a disastrous film called
Love Story 2050 a few years ago, along with the aliens in Koi Mil Gaya, super hero magic in Mr. India, and that is just off the top of my head. Indian films don’t really have ‘genres’ like we do here - and science doesn’t have the stigma it does here - so you are quite likely to find all sorts of sci-fi type things like robots or secret formulas in films we wouldn’t consider sci-fi. The other to keep in mind is that Indian films tend to more concerned with the here and now, as far as social problems go, and tend not to create horrific dystopias that exist in some alternate reality like Terminator or something. They may exaggerate things for dramatic effect but the problems are real - corrupt politicos, callous businessmen, violent gangsters, and ethnic cleansing. With things like that happening outside your door, you need a hero who can beat up a shark (like Prahbas does in Chatrapathi) or who can fight a robot cobra (or whatever it is Rajnikanth is doing in the Endhiran trailer) in your neighborhood, not in some alternate sphere of existance.

Q: Okay, okay - I get it! All my generalizations are wrong and I shouldn't call a Tamil film Bollywood and I will refer to Rajnikanth only as Superstar Rajnikanth. But what can I expect when I, clueless Westerner, go to see the movie?

A: If you are lucky, something like this will happen in your theater when Superstar Rajnikanth makes his first appearance:

Q: That is awesome but not what I meant... what will the movie be like?

A: Oh, okay. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The most important thing to remember is that this is not a movie made with Western audiences in mind and the storytelling will almost certainly not fit into your preconceived notions of how a movie works. There will probably be plenty of song breaks where the action is moved to a fantasy setting - this does not (necessarily) mean that the characters are actually in Peru or outer space or whatever. Think of it as a metaphor for... something or (even better) just enjoy it without trying to make linear sense of the song placement. Songs happen. You will have to deal with it.

There may also be a comedic subplot. You will know when this is happening because a totally different set of characters will show up and interact only tangentially with the main characters while doing lots of pratfalls and making horrible double-entendres and puns. This will all be accompanied by really loud sound effects. The comedic subplot may or may not affect the main plot.

There will be an intermission. Use this time to go to the bathroom and get some snacks.
Q: But why--?

A: Look, let me just stop you right there. It's better not to ask why. This is just the way Indian movies are. Why are Hollywood movies so short and why are all the songs in the background? That's weird!
Q: That's not weird. That is how movies-- oh, I see your point.

A: Good! Thank you for being such a good sport, Straw Person Journalist!

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Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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