Excerpts from a social media interaction where Baradwaj Rangan answered questions about Shankar's Enthiran.
Was it necessary to include a love story in a sci-fi film about robots? (@silunaaa)
BR: That's the reason we don't see many sci-fi films. The minute you have a big film with a big star, you immediately need to bring in a love angle and songs. You need all these other factors for a commercial film that you can't remain true to the genre. You then have to work around the genre.
So in Enthiran, the genre works as a framework around the things we want, which for an Indian audience is romance, villains and other elements. We are not able to make that science fiction movie yet that's a real benchmark. The only exception is the visual effects which is really good in this film.
How far do we have to go before we make a film like Inception? Though Enthiran was an attempt to do that, it failed miserably in that aspect. (@KabiCL)
BR: So, I'm gonna say what Aamir Khan said when he was asked the same question. He said, even Hollywood movies are dumbed down, so it is not like every film is an Inception. But then Hollywood is far ahead in terms of, a) technology and b) in terms of a global audience.
So if you put out a story, you have the freedom to pick out topics because your audiences are not concentrated in one area like a lot of the Indian audiences. So Aamir's point was mainly that we have to be free enough to imagine things, which means our audiences are different and our primary responsibility is to feed and reach out to that audience.
And if that audience does not like certain things, then we are restricted in the way we make films. Or we have to keep the budget really low so you don't need to rely on the entire audience.
He said another thing that's very important…that we don't give enough value to our writers – emotionally, creatively and economically. Writers are among the worst paid people in the film industry food chain, so you know, the minute that changes, a lot of this will also change.
After watching I, I felt Shankar's story telling has taken a sharp drop. Do you feel that one of the reasons for this was the demise of his frequent collaborator, Sujatha? (Vignesh Kannan)
BR: It is a little hard to say because how much of a director is responsible for the screenplay and how much is actually the screenplay writer's inputs? This is bit of a nebulous area. Like when I asked Mani Ratnam about Sujatha, he said what he did was that he'd have an idea for a scene and he'd be writing it himself but he'll also give it to Sujatha and ask him to write a short story around that scene, so that when Sujatha gave him that little idea of a short story, then Mani Ratnam would pick the things he wanted.
So, you know, Mani Ratnam was as instrumental in taking the scene forward as Sujatha. It is very hard to say how Shankar worked with Sujatha. Did he ask Sujatha to give him the whole screenplay and he just did the direction part or was he also instrumental in moulding the screenplay? I don't know. But yes, a lot of the central ideas in Enthiran are definitely from Sujatha.
One of the major must-haves of the masala movie is that there is this protagonist with a strong antagonist so that it is good versus evil
Enthiran was one movie which broke several Rajini stereotypes – no fancy introduction, no punch dialogues, no major fights. Did Shankar have to create a second Rajini (the wonderful Chitti) to compensate for the lack of superstar-ness in the protagonist? (@ChiniZyaada)
BR: Now, Chitti as a protagonist is fascinating right? He is the one who evolves through three stages. The first stage is, he's the Kamal in Swathi Muthyam…someone who is naïve and innocent, who does not know right from wrong.
And then, the second stage being like the Rajini from Annamalai and Padayappa, who is backstabbed by his own best friends, so to speak. And the third, is the Aamir Khan from Rang De Basanti where he goes down fighting the establishment that is denying him his basic "human" rights. So, there are all these shades to Chitti. It's fascinating that such a tragic dimension exists within the constructs of a Rajini film right? But what's not so fantastic is the development of this character. And the lack of superstar-ness in Vasee is a real problem despite having a fascinating Chitti.
What is your opinion of the character Vasee (the scientist character)? Do you think Chitti and 2.O were so strong that Vasee got overshadowed? (Prem Gokul)
BR: Here is the problem with the Vasee-Chitti dynamic. One of the major must-haves of the masala movie is that there is this protagonist with a strong antagonist so that it is good versus evil. If you take the epics, you are talking about Ramayana where you have Rama on one side and Ravana on the other…it is a good man vanquishing evil.
You could have literally remade the Ramayana in this case. Around the interval point, Chitti turns evil and kidnaps the heroine, and then you have a Sita-like character development there. And the hero Rajini – Vasee spends the second half trying to find her and vanquish the Chitti character. So that's a classic hero-versus-villain story in the masala mould with the interesting twist that this Ravana, is this Rama's own creation. So that's one way it could have gone.
The second is, Danny is the evil. He rescues Chitti from the grave-like garbage heap and recreates him. So, according to the film's logic of "Enna Padachavardhaan Kadavul", you have Chitti's allegiance change towards Danny, because Danny is now the one who recreated Chitti from the scraps. So, he becomes a Terminator-like weapon against Vasee and Vasee has to find a clever way to kill it. This again is a proper masala story. But, what happens is, we waste a lot of time on the warm, fuzzy Chitti trying to be cute and lovable and his transformation into evil comes very late in the screenplay.
Also, it wasn't done in a way that helped the hero Rajini and Vasee came up looking very weak. And finally, when Vasee vanquishes the villain by just tapping the keyboard, it feels very insignificant compared to the things Chitti has done before that. So, that was my main problem with the film.
Watch the entire episode here: