A Teddy Bear In ‘Teddy’, A Fly In ‘Eega’, A Robot In ‘Enthiran’... Ten Times Animals And Machines Became Characters In South Indian Films
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It’s always interesting to imagine what a monkey might be thinking or how the world looks to a fly. When animals and everyday objects are invested with human-like qualities, they open a perspective that is not centered on humans. For instance, someone who wouldn’t think twice before swatting a fly might still want the fly in Eega to succeed. When we see animals and machines behaving like humans, we allow ourselves to see the world from a slightly different perspective.

The following are ten times when animals and other objects became much-loved characters.

Teddy (Tamil, 2021)

There’s a minor twist in how a teddy bear becomes sentient in Shakti Soundar Rajan’s Teddy. It’s not just magic or science. It’s a mixture of old-school soul-swapping and out-of-body experience that allows Srividya (Sayyeshaa) to seek help from Shiva (Arya) to recover her lost body. It’s not revenge that Teddy (animated by Srividya’s soul) seeks, but a return to her former body. Like the fly in Rajamouli’s Eega, the teddy bear is designed to be life-like in appearance, voice, and behaviour, that you don’t really think of it as a non-human being.

Eega (Telugu, 2012)

SS Rajamouli’s Eega, starring Nani, subverts the idea of a super power. When we say superpower, we mean superhuman power. But what if a person, with unfinished business, reincarnated as a fly? Could he ever fulfill his last wish? But, not all superheroes need superpowers, especially when they have, like Nani, the fly, infinite ability to scheme and annoy. The film doesn’t project humans as a superior beings. Instead, it elevates a fly to the level of a human. You’re excited each time it creatively accomplishes (often with great audacity) what you thought was impossible.

Enthiran (Tamil, 2010)

In Shankar’s Enthiran, a machine comes alive: a life-like robot. In films like Eega, there’s no explanation for how Nani reincarnates as a fly. It’s taken to be a fact. Perhaps, it’s magic. But in Enthiran, it’s explained by a kind of science that is sufficiently advanced and indistinguishable from magic. Rajinikanth’s Vaseegaran has figured out a way to clone himself into robots. But like the humans who made them, robots find a way to break laws which cause harm to Vaseegaran and to the world. If Eega elevated a fly to a human, Enthiran gives metal a god-like sentience and strength.

Maryada Ramanna (Telugu, 2010)

Ravi Teja lends his voice to a bicycle in this Rajamouli film. Teja, with his inimitable style, captures the burdens faced by the cycle that Sunil’s character, Ramu, rides.

Ramu doesn’t take care about his cycle much even though he rides his way through busy streets day and night. This irritates Teja (the cycle) and he blames Ramu for the colourless life that he leads. Although the cycle isn’t present throughout the film, it’s worth remembering that Maryada Ramanna was made before Eega (also directed by Rajamouli), in which a fly takes revenge against the antagonist.

Godavari (Telugu, 2006)

A street dog that cannot bark makes you think a lot in Godavari. The dog is voiced by the director of the movie, Sekhar Kammula. Occasionally, a talking parrot also creeps in, and so does another dog with a voice. The conversations between animals and birds are pretty funny here, and they focus on the importance of relationships (amongst the different species). The dog really gets the best lines in the film and it’s a treat to watch him jump with joy when he goes out of his way to help his human-friend in a contest.

Awe (Telugu, 2018)

A fish (voiced by Nani) teaches a chef how to cook delicious meals in this delicious drama. Nani mostly plays himself, pouring life into an aquarium fish. His dialogues are filled with the catchphrases and movie-titles that have made him the ‘Natural Star’ that he is today. The same holds good for Ravi Teja, as well, as he stars as a voice-actor for a bonsai tree. The fish and the tree get some laugh-out-loud punch dialogues that talk about their significance in the world that’s largely dominated by humans.

Hollywood (Kannada, 2002)

Before Enthiran took over the world, there was US 47. The US in US 47 is an acronym for Upendra and Surendra (twins played by actor Upendra). And the digits 47 have been taken from the assault rifle AK-47. It may sound confusing at first, but the movie rarely delves into the science fiction aspect of the story, as it’s more of a comedy drama. Upendra plays three characters (including the robot) and it’s interesting to note that when robots get the power to think and make decisions on their own, we won’t be able to tolerate their presence. Also, this talking robot can converse with a lab monkey.

Thenkasipattanam (Malayalam, 2000)

In Rafi Mecartin’s blockbuster Thenkasipattanam, a cow does a lot more than just talk. It can give a solid ‘kick’ to any town drunk and it’s moo sounds a lot like a lover shouting Devoooo. With two people under its skin, the cow even came with a detachable udder made of rubber. It could even ride a bicycle. The cow scene was so funny when it first released that the audience couldn’t stop laughing well into the following scenes. Watch the Hindi version of the same scene in Hulchul.

Philips And The Monkey Pen (Malayalam, 2013)

In the 2013 Malayalam children’s film Philips And The Monkey Pen, young Ryan (Sanoop Santhosh) struggles with maths and his maths teacher. Homework is another major task, apart from the issues he faces thanks to his parents and their opposing faiths. But all that changes when he gets his hands on the antique Monkey Pen from his grandad. The magical pen helps him complete his homework and all the other issues he faces at school. Along with the help of God himself (played by Innocent) the pen becomes a character in its own right, making Ryan a better person with each task he’s asked to perform.

The Car (Malayalam, 1997)

Although the red Maruti 1000 in Rajasenan’s The Car technically doesn’t talk, it has all the traits of a character actor in the film. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to call this a double role either. It’s both the hero’s best friend and also his worst enemy. In certain shots, coupled with ominous music, dark lighting and the blinking of its headlights, it appears to give us death stares. A case of mistaken identity further adds to the car’s personality, making this fun 1997 comedy a favourite among 90’s kids. Among other vehicles with equal screen presence are ‘Chekuthan’ from Spadikam, the bus in Dileep’s Parakkum Thalika and Jagathy’s (K and K Automobiles’) car in Aram + Aram = Kinnaram.   

There’s another Robo. Actually it is Shankar’s Robo but not the Shankar you’re thinking of. In this so-bad-its-good hall-of-famer, Malayalam cinema got a robot that could easily be mistaken for one of those tacky fibre-glass dustbins. “He sings for you, he dances for you. He cooks for you, he serves for you” goes the film’s cult theme song. The Robo fought crime and it could even do the Thiruvathira Kali! Beat that Showman Shankar!

(With inputs from Karthik Keramalu, Vishal Menon, and Ashutosh Mohan)

A Bear In ‘Teddy’, A Fly In ‘Eega’, A Robot In ‘Enthiran’… Ten Times Animals And Machines Became Characters In South Films, Film Companion

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