If you know about Kannada legend Upendra's body of work, you will realise he is some kind a philistine who probably has forever changed the way his fans perceive movies. I am emphasising on his fans, because beyond a certain spectrum, his work is mostly unknown.
So when his science fiction movie, Hollywood released in 2003, few would've thought that it would have led to the making of Shankar-Rajanikanth's magnum opus Enthiran (2010). It is a claim that might not go down well with many Rajini fans but as this article mentions, Upendra decided to go ahead with its production after learning that Shankar's project was getting delayed. And when Enthiran finally released, the similarities could be easily spotted. The treatment, however, was very different.
If there is even a little interest in robots in Indian cinema, Upendra's Hollywood should get most of the credit for it. In Indian movies, robots have never been a suitable protagonist. Not even if it is a dancing robot. While the West has virtually mastered the art, robots are still shunned in the Indian sub-continent as a suitable narrative device. And there are handful of Indian movies like the short film Anukul (2016) and Phuntroo (2016) that has had a robot as an important character after Enthiran.
Like most Indian science fiction movies, Hollywood is necessarily a love triangle in the disguise of science fiction. Directed by Dinesh Baboo and written by Upendra, Hollywood has Upendra in three roles. He plays the twins Upendra, a movie maker and Surendra, a scientist as well as the android US 47.
Like most Indian science fiction movies, Hollywood is necessarily a love triangle in the disguise of science fiction.
We are not sure if Upendra wanted to emulate Kamaal Haasan but he is effortlessly brilliant in all three roles, bringing in his usual idiosyncrasies. So we see that Surendra is in love with Manisha, played by the Australian actress Felicity Mason. But Manisha is more interested in the dashing Upendra. Surendra, seeing no alternative to this, goes to his mentor, played by Ananth Nag, who creates an android who looks exactly like him. Named US 47, this android has the key to Manisha's heart, as he will be used by Surendra to make Manisha fall in love with it and ultimately Surendra will take its place. But the android falls in love with Manisha and mayhem ensues. Seeing no alternative, the twins, the professor and Manisha join hands to bring this to an end but there's a twist.
Right, it sounds exactly like Enthiran, where Dr. Vaseegaran's creation Chitti (Rajinikanth) falls in love with his girlfriend Saana (Aishwarya Rai) and later goes rogue thanks to the unholy intervention of Dr. Bohra (Danny Dengzongpa) and has to be ultimately stopped.
One of the major problems with Hollywood is that it was too radical for its time. While Indians were accustomed to seeing man and woman romancing, the idea that a machine can fall in love with a woman, took some time to attract audiences. It was a neat yet hardened take on the myth of Frankenstein's monster with the masala twist.
While in Enthiran, Chitti finally becomes the robot equivalent of a deranged lover, in Hollywood, US 47 decides that it is the best choice for Manisha. Both in Hollywood and Enthiran, the woman hardly get any chance to exercise her agency, be it with a man or a machine. But then both Hollywood and Enthiran utilise a common science fiction trope, where the creation decides that it is better than the creator and goes on a rampage. And for both these movies, love is an essential trigger to cause this.
Both in Hollywood and Enthiran, the woman hardly get any chance to exercise her agency, be it with a man or a machine
Another interesting angle in Hollywood is the monkey Seenu, who becomes a loyal sidekick of US 47. Together, the machine and animal cause some serious damage, but Seenu's placement in the narrative is important because not only does it act as an observer, it often gives running commentary on the futility of the situation and sympathising with US 47.
One of the major plus points of Hollywood is that it takes the masala template seriously. And this is what seems to have inspired Enthiran, which modified it according to its need. While Hollywood is slightly jumbled, Enthiran is much more confident.
Also, one of the main reasons why Enthiran was a huge box office success is Rajinikanth's mass appeal. Though Upendra has his own following, it is still limited down South.
But for cult movie enthusiasts, Hollywood is still a miracle for it tried to achieve the impossible. And now as we await the release of 2.0, we can hope that Hollywood will finally manage to claw its way out of obscurity.