Thursday, October 7, 2010

Endhiran and the Hubris of Dr. Vaseegar

There are movies and then there is Endhiran. I wrote a spoiler-free review here - spoiler for the review, I loved it - but I wanted a chance to dig into some meatier stuff. Endhiran was not only extremely entertaining but it had a lot of substance to it and I think those things are just as worth exploring as Rajinikanth’s Superstar charisma.

You can read my previous post on Romance and Endhiran here.

One of the many interesting threads running through
Endhiran was the character of Dr. Vaseegar aka Dr. Vasi. Played by the inimitable Rajnikanth, Dr. Vasi was the protagonist of the film , the man who set the plot into motion, yet he was overshadowed by his charismatic creation. He gets the girl but it seems more like she is not choosing the robotic man than actively choosing Dr. Vasi. He is arrogant, vain, self-absorbed, and kind of a jerk - yet at the end I felt sorry for him and then even begin to cheer for him. So, let’s take a look at the good doctor and see if we can’t puzzle his character through.

When we are introduced to Dr. Vasi, he has his back to us. Dressed in nerdy clothes (including a sweater vest) and wearing glasses, he is working hard on completing his robotic man. As the days and months montage past, his hair grows long and unkempt and he ignores all communication from his girlfriend, the lovely Sana (Aishwarya Rai). Finally, we have the completed product - a robotic man, an android. This android was especially designed by Dr. Vasi to be the perfect man and uncoincidentally, he looks
exactly like Dr. Vasi. Imagine the thoughts of a man who, in making a robot model of mankind, uses himself as the template.

Dr. Vasi:
“Okay, so I will make this android to be exactly my height with my build and my facial features. Also, he will have my hair and my voice. If one of me is excellent, then two will be phenomenal!”

The android isn’t an attempt to improve upon humanity but a way to
preserve humanity as it is - as we find out when we learn Dr. Vasi’s plans for the android.

Although he gave it his looks, Dr. Vasi doesn’t think of his android as a person. Unlike his mother - who names the robot ‘Chitti’ - or Sana - who is prone to hugging the robot - Dr. Vasi views his creation in a strictly utilitarian way. But you can also see something of that in the way Dr. Vasi treats the people he views as his (mental) inferiors. At the beginning of the film, Dr. Vasi uses people exactly the way he uses Chitti and it is through these actions that the plot of the film is really set into motion.

Dr. Vasi’s two assistants didn’t get much screen time. I think maybe some people may not have even noticed this bit in the film because (understandably) they might have been too focused on cobras made of robots but the two assistants play an instrumental role leading to the creation of the “evil” Chitti. It plays like this - we see Dr. Vasi treating his assistants poorly through most of the first act. He insults their intelligence in a comic way but the two assistants seem resentful. Now, enter Dr. Vasi’s mentor, Dr. Bohra (the great Danny Denzongpa). The two assistants approach Dr. Bohra asking for work at his lab because, as they say, Dr. Vasi may as well be using their PhDs in robotics as toilet paper because he is giving them no work of consequence to do.

Fast forward to the next act and Dr. Bohra needs help in assembling his own robot creation - guess who he calls? Now, if Dr. Vasi had treated his assistants kindly, they never would have taken Dr. Bohra’s job offer and the “evil” Chitti would never have been built. The chaos that ensues - while not
directly Dr. Vasi’s fault is still a fate he had coming.

And now Sana. I was actually surprised to see so many reviews calling Aishwarya awful and her character a superfluous
damsel in distress because she, too, was a crucial part of the story. Sana is almost the complete opposite of Dr. Vasi. Where he is closed off to the world, she lives in a home for the widows and children of men who were killed in war. Sana is kind, open, and caring. She immediately takes Chitti into her life and makes him feel like part of the family. There is a whole montage of him teaching the ladies karate and cooking elaborate dinners for them. This is realm that Dr. Vasi is forbidden to enter - literally, because there are NO MEN ALLOWED in Sana’s community home. While her character isn’t much explored - this being a hero-driven film and all - I feel like we get enough of a sense of her openness and inclusiveness to understand why Chitti would be drawn to her. She is the one person who made him feel like... a person instead of a tool.

It’s all the worse because Dr. Vasi does treat her in a very utilitarian way. When he wants her, he calls her, otherwise, her needs mean nothing. It is a shock to him, I think, that he becomes jealous of her affection for Chitti, which seems warmer than the feelings she has for him. He proposes marriage more out of fear that he will lose Sana than a love for her and this weakness in their relationship is exploited by those who want to manipulate Chitti. It is not until the end, where Dr. Vasi has to
fight for Sana, that we see how much he loves her - the scene comes where Dr. Vasi is again ignoring Sana and she decides to play a prank on him that backfires. Dr. Vasi attempts to come to her rescue but all he can do is kick sand in the bad guy’s face. It is enough and the two of them take off running. We find them bent over huffing and puffing from exertion - literally at the same level for once. The two look at each other and burst out laughing. A small moment but a humanizing one for Dr. Vasi and it is the turning point for him, I think. It is the first time we see him actually connect with another human being.

And talking of tools, let’s look at Dr. Vasi’s relationship with Chitti. Dr. Vasi wants machine men to replace real men on the battlefield but only on one side. There are no grand moral schemes here about stopping war or pontificating about the necessary evil of killing on a battlefield - it’s like Dr. Vasi had the idea to build a robot army one day and just decided to go ahead and do it, consequences be damned. Chitti originally has no feelings (a topic for another day) and the only reason Dr. Vasi gives Chitti emotions is to make sure Chitti has enough social intelligence to pass the army entrance exam. But you can’t control emotions and Dr. Vasi loses complete control of Chitti’s... and then loses control of his own, hacking Chitti to pieces in a rage when he doesn’t do what Dr. Vasi wants him to. It’s a chilling scene, seeing him tear apart his own creation and something within Dr. Vasi breaks as well. It’s after this scene that we see him become more human and less like the God-like creator he had been. His mighty pride falling before the axe.

Ultimately, Dr. Vasi is held responsible for all the damages Chitti caused and I think it’s a fair ending. Bringing life into the world without a thought for anything other than one’s self can have dire consequences... like a cobra made out of robots crushing rush hour commuters on their way home. But I really liked the nuanced portrayal of Dr. Vasi and it’s just one more thing that proves you can make a blockbuster
masala film with a compelling and complex story and characters.


KrisnhaDeverayar said...

Wow, I read this and the previous 2 posts on Endhiran. Although i watched it 3 times, I never see the movie from your point of view at all.

You girls can really see through many things in many levels.

Thank you. Will inform my friends about your site.

Filmi Girl said...

Thank you so much!! I am very happy you read this one. :)

One of the reasons that Endhiran will be remembered is that the film is meaningful - not just entertaining! You can always see something new in the story and characters. :)

arun said...

I agree; this is not just for entertainment - it is meaningful.

You had done a great job in bringing out Dr. Vasi's role and that of Sana. This is new and a different/meaningful perspective. Now I see the reason as to why I love this movie. Watched it twice and I am going today for the 3rd time; will view it from your perspective.

It is real fun!

Uday Kanth said...

Hii I saw this movie yesterday and loved it to the core! I knew this movie had a lot more than just Rajnikanth and your post above proves just that! How many times have ya seen this movie? Because it's hard to see so much detail in one time.

durga sekar said...

There shud have been a strong reason for karunas and santhanam for betraying Dr.vaseegar. Their comedy is boring. They don seem to look like educated and they don look like assistants for gr8 scientists

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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