The Business of Robot (Enthiran)

The Tamil film Enthiran — dubbed in Telugu and Hindi (Robot) — was India’s costliest film to date.  According to media reports the film is a runaway hit with record returns.  As the saying goes “Timing is everything” and Enthiran had everything going for it from the start. Here is a look at what made this film such a success and what it means to the future of Indian cinema.

Rajnikanth: In the world of Indian commercial cinema, each star aspires to surpass the box office success of his previous hit film. For “Thalaivar” (as Rajnikanth is referred to by his fans) after two super duper back to back hits in Chandramukhi and Sivaji, an ambitious mega production was a sensible yet risky next step. But if there was anyone in the industry who could attempt this it was Rajinikanth or one of the other top stars.  In short, the timing was just right for Rajnikanth.

Aishwarya Rai: After her debut film Iruvar and later the film, Jeans, Aishwarya Rai has preferred to stick with Hindi films. To star in a film in the south, she really needed something “big” and Enthiran was the answer. Besides, she has the prior experience of working with Director Shankar. Previous attempts to cast to star opposite Rajnikanth had apparently failed to come through for various reasons.  With an eye on a global audience (especially among NRIs), Aishwarya Rai was easily the perfect choice for the producers of the film. Again, for her too, the timing was just right.

Director Shankar: Known for his ambitious projects, every film directed by Shankar is more expensive than his previous film. After the huge success of Sivaji, he had to shoot for something bigger and so the timing was perfect for him to embark on his biggest ever film to date. Besides, with ten super hit films to his credit Director Shankar is easily one of the most bankable directors in the Indian film industry.

AR Rehman: After his recent Oscar award, AR Rehman has extended his popularity and name recognition beyond Indian cinema. Rehman was a clear automatic choice for a big budget Indian film of this scale with global ambitions. His prior experience of working for the Rajinikanth-Shankar team helped firm up the mix for the overall team.

Sun Pictures and Sun TV: The stupendous success of the Sun TV as a business enterprise, and backed by the endless deep pockets of Tamil Nadu’s “ruling family”, there was probably no production house that was better equipped to finance a project of this magnitude. After having dabbled with distribution of Tamil films, Sun Pictures was well positioned to make its first foray into production with a big splash by producing India’s biggest ever film. The rapid expansion of cable TV channels across India makes these channels a perfect medium to  promote films. While Rajinikanth films are never short of publicity, the ceaseless promos on Sun TV served as an icing on the cake.

In short, besides being the top players in their own right, all the major players in this film had one thing in common — the time was just right for each of of them to come together and be part of this mega production. Shankar had a dream project in mind, Rajnikanth was ready for a mega project, AR Rehman was a fixture for the Rajni-Shankar team, Sun Pictures had the resources and the intent, and things fell in place for Aishwarya Rai to further beef up the film’s marketability.

Rajnikanth has proven repeatedly that his films are a virtual box office guarantee. So the biggest reason for the success of this film is the presence of the star himself.  Next, there is the novelty of all the hi-tech used in the film blended into a story that suits the Indian movie-goer. Thirdly, the marketing muscle of Sun pictures. The rest of the credit should go to Aishwarya Rai and AR Rehman for their respective crowd pulling abilities.

Impact on Indian cinema: This film is bound to inspire Indian directors to think “big” (as in big budget films) and to not avoid themes that are unconventional. Thanks to this film a host of technicians and Indian companies have had an opportunity to interact with the best in the business from abroad. The learning from this experience is bound to positively influence the technical aspects of Indian films in the future. Lastly, films especially big budget films are bound to draw upon the marketing techniques used for this film (music launch in Malaysia, byte-size ads featuring the team on cable channels, “making of Enthiran” promos etc.) — all in all an impressive multi-pronged marketing assault.