The biggest problem with the music for Endhiran (Robot) is that the people responsible for it took the title way too seriously.
Endhiran is the upcoming Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starring assault on the senses, directed as it is by S. Shankar, whose talent for visual extravagance makes him the point person for Tamil cinema’s most expensive films.
This unfortunately makes the soundtrack, composed by A.R. Rahman, feel like it’s playing second fiddle to Shankar’s on-screen dabbling in wildly exotic locales and flamboyant set pieces.
Two stars: A still from Endhiran.
While Rahman’s musical flourishes appear occasionally, he also seems to take the easy way out—choosing to couch the science fiction theme of the film in generic 1990s dance-pop and vocoders set at maximum. Opening track Pudhiya Manithan takes a brief detour into interesting Kraftwerk-esque minimalism, but quickly devolves into mediocrity, despite S.P. Balasubramaniam’s vocal histrionics.
And then there are the lyrics.
In the meeting to decide how the lyrics to the Endhiran songs could be made suitably sci-fi (it had to have been a meeting. I shudder to imagine an actual creative process responsible for this), everyone presumably wrote down all the scientific terms they remembered from the NCERT science textbooks, from which fragments of lyrics were chosen randomly. How else does one explain the arbitrary smattering of “electrons”, “neutrons”, “Newton” and “supersonic” throughout the album, leave alone rapper Yogi B.’s frequent cringe-worthy cries of “R-r-r-r-r-Robo”?
The second track Kadhal Anukkal is the album standout—partly because it doesn’t have the blunt “robot” acoustic stamp Rahman beats over most of the other songs, nor the “Rajinikanth” epicness that its accompanying video demands. Anukkal starts with an acoustic guitar that wouldn’t be out of place in a John Mayer song (with hints of Rahman’s brilliant, minimalist Vellai Pookal from 2002’s Kannathil Muthamittal). A gentle string section rises and falls between verses, and Rahman even throws in a bagpipe-led interlude.
Coming right at the centre of the album is the two-and-a-half minute Chitti Dance Showcase. It’s rather appropriately named, as it appears to be a schizophrenic sonic frenzy of crunchy guitar riffs, pounding percussion and jathis. It’s quite brilliant, but its merit as a stand-alone song is debatable.
Kilimanjaro and Arima Arima are next, providing the album with the required amount of epic—with trumpets and brass sections aplenty. Where a cinematic string section powers Arima Arima, Kilimanjaro feels like an out-take from Rahman’s work on Raavan, with jungle rhythms and dark percussion. Album closer Boom Boom Robo Da begins awkwardly and never settles, with mandolin riffs, snatches of heavy guitar shredding and a Spanish guitar bridge section.
Endhiran is an entertaining album overall, one that feels like the soundtrack to India’s most expensive film. But it does little else musically, and sounds neither as inventive nor as fresh as Sivaji: The Boss, the previous Rahman-Shankar-Rajinikanth collaboration.