Travels in Hyperreality
- Costliest Indian film ever made, at Rs 150 crore
- 40 per cent of the budget said to be spent on special effects alone
- Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai paired romantically for the first time
- Yuen Woo Ping, action choreographer in the Matrix and Kill Bill sequels, was Endhiran’s stunt coordinator
- First Indian film for Mary E. Vogt, the costume designer for the Men in Black series
- Stanwinston Studio, the maker of Jurassic Park, Predator, Terminator, Iron Man, Avatar, provided the animatronics technology
- Film likely to be released late September in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi
With S. Shankar, big seems to get only bigger with every new film. The Chennai-based filmmaker, notorious for overshooting his films’ assigned budgets, is set to deliver what Aishwarya Rai Bachchan calls “a landmark in the history of Indian cinema”, with his latest trilingual Endhiran (Robot). The film that took two years to make has cost a jaw-dropping Rs 150 crore—twice the budget of the costliest film to date, the Bollywood multi-starrer Blue (which, incidentally, sank like a stone at the box office). Forty per cent of the money is believed to have been spent on special effects alone. Rajnikanth’s make-up was worth the cost of a small film—Rs 3 crore—and the set (which, the publicity machine emphasises, is “eco-friendly”) was worth Rs 5 crore. Gossip has it that it was Shankar’s location scouting—the film has been shot in Vienna, Machu Picchu in Peru, US and Brazil, apart from Goa, Kulu-Manali, Pune, Vellore and Chennai—in the time of recession that led the first producer, Ayngaran International, to pull out soon after the movie went on floors, after which Kalanidhi Maran had to step in to back the project through Sun TV Network’s movie production arm. Last heard, Think Music had acquired the music rights of the Tamil version for a whopping Rs 7 crore, the highest ever for a South Indian film.
An optimistic Rajnikanth is believed to have told Shankar after seeing the rushes of Endhiran, “The film will do well”.
There’s more than big money to attract the viewer to this futuristic sci-fi set in 2020. For one, there’s superstar Rajnikanth, playing a scientist who builds a robot that looks like him to save people from an evil force represented by Danny Denzongpa. (Shades of The Terminator? And the Hindi flop from last year, Love Story 2050?). What’s more, the film has Aishwarya playing Rajni’s love interest for the first time—a pairing that excites interest against a backdrop of swirling stories about how he unsuccessfully tried to make her the heroine of three of his earlier films—Baba, Chandramukhi and Shivaji—and finally hit a home run with Endhiran on her father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan’s intervention. The two stars will be dancing to the tunes of Oscar winner A.R. Rahman and mouthing lyrics written by poet Vairamuthu. The music will be mixed by another Oscar winner, Resul Pookutty.
The international contributions to what Rajni labels Shankar’s “dream project” are just as eyebrow-raising. Yuen Woo Ping, who has directed Jackie Chan and was the action choreographer in the Matrix and Kill Bill sequels, is Endhiran’s stunt coordinator while Mary E.Vogt, the costume designer for the Men in Black series, will showcase her work for the first time in an Indian film. The film has made extensive use of Stanwinston Studio’s animatronics technology, putting it in the exalted company of Jurassic Park, Predator, Terminator, Iron Man and the recent Avatar, which used the same studio.
In the run-up to the film’s likely release in late September (September 24 is the rumoured date), the Tamil film industry is full of Endhiran buzz. (Even the latest Amul ad features it: Rai’bot, The Makhanical Wonder...”) Every little nugget of information has found its way into the media, including the story of how the film got its double-barrelled title: Shankar’s fondness for English names for his films—Gentleman, Indian, Jeans, Boys—was initially extended to Endhiran, too, which started out being called Robot (its title in both the Hindi and Telugu versions). But it was quickly changed when the Tamil Nadu government declared that its entertainment tax waiver would apply only to films with a Tamil title.
Apart from the title, the film boasts of other elements that might just fetch it a waiver. It is inspired by famous stories of the late novelist Sujatha, En Iniya Enthira (My Beloved Robot) and Jeano (A Robotic Dog). Rajni plays both human and robot. Shahrukh Khan had initially been approached for these twin roles but quit the project “because of creative differences”. Rajni himself confirmed this at the music release of the Hindi version of the film in Mumbai last weekend, with the comment, “Daane daane pe likha hai khaane waale ka naam” (i.e. he was destined to play this role).
At the music release of the Tamil version in Kuala Lumpur, however, he sounded a bit like a callow youth, when he said, “You’ll never be able to see a beauty like Aishwarya in our generation. She is a true artist.” But his effusive praise notwithstanding, the Mumbai star is said to be “seriously” unhappy with some of her costumes and her garish headgear, feathers and all.
So, will Endhiran make the cash registers ring? Will the audience in B and C centres be able to connect with a sci-fi? Film experts hold that “the Marans are too astute to back a film unless they know it’s a winner”. Writer Raji Monisha Cherian says, “There’s no reason why a film in which Shankar has blended all the formula elements should flop.” The word from art critic Sadanand Menon is: “Shankar is comfortable with romance, drama, stunts and the use of technology.” But he is quick to add, tongue in cheek, “I was thinking that all these days they (actors in Tamil cinema) were playacting as robots. With this film, they actually are robots. A truthful moment for Tamil cinema!”
But, ultimately it’s Thalaivar Rajnikanth’s word that matters. Rajni, said to have been non-committal after seeing his films i and Padiyappa (which later flopped at the box office), is believed to have told Shankar after seeing the rushes of Endhiran: “The film will do well.” Five more reassuring and loaded words were never spoken by a superstar to his director in the history of Indian cinema.