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This review covers the version of Enthiran dubbed into Hindi and retitled Robot (not that the original language matters to me, since I have to read the English subtitles, anyway).
The release of Enthiran, the most expensive Indian movie ever made, comes at an interesting point in India’s relationship with the Western world. Just a week ago, organizers of the Commonwealth Games — which are being held in New Delhi this year — responded to complaints from international athletes about the filthy, unsafe conditions of their accommodations by saying that perhaps the athletes’ standards were too high. And now, Enthiran proves to be more culturally charged than one would expect from an action comedy about a robot.
At its core, Enthiran is a shallow and conventional sci-fi story. A professor, Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) creates a humanoid robot that he hopes to sell to the army. When the robot, Chitti (also played by Rajinikanth), proves too dangerous, Vasee programs the robot with human emotions.
Chitti falls for Vasee’s girlfriend, Sana (Aishwarya Rai), damaging his relationship with his creator. Chitti seeks guidance from Vasee’s mentor, Bora (Danny Denzongpa), who reprograms Chitti for evil.
Overall, the movie is just average. Rai overacts her role, though her performances in the dance numbers are up to her usual high standards. The soundtrack is surprisingly corny and unpolished, given that Oscar-winner A. R. Rahman composed the music. Most of the special effects look cheap, especially the cartoonish depiction of a fetus when Chitti performs a “high-def” ultrasound. Also, there are talking mosquitoes and robot lions.
The majority of the film’s large budget went into the final action sequence, and it shows. It’s an impressive battle, clearly inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster Transformers in terms of scale and destruction. Sure, it’s kind of silly, but it’s an incredibly fun sequence that’s worth experiencing on the big screen.
But Enthiran contains some cultural views on race and gender that are out of step with most of the Western world. American audiences will appreciate the campy value of the story and final action sequence, but will likely be turned off by values that seem racist and sexist.
Enthiran fetishizes violence against women. Sana is threatened with rape on three occasions, and one instance is particularly graphic (especially in a movie which only allows its lead couple to kiss on the cheek). Sana is trapped in a train car with a group of armed men seeking revenge against her and Chitti, pinned to the floor of the car by her arms and legs. As the lead goon leans over her, a dozen men behind him aim their cell phone cameras to capture Sana’s violation. A shot of Sana cowering in fear before Chitti inevitably rescues her would have sufficed without making the potential rape seem titillating.
Even more shocking is a sequence in which Chitti saves a teenage girl from a burning building. The girl, who’s taking a bath, protests being rescued naked, but Chitti deems saving her life more important than her potential embarrassment. When Chitti deposits the girl safely in front of her mother, there is an audible gasp from the throng of onlookers and reporters. The girl’s mother looks at her daughter with disgust, and Vasee, covering the girl with his jacket, berates Chitti for bringing the girl out in such an immodest state. The girl then runs in front of a truck, killing herself.
The scene is disgusting because the human characters react as though, under the circumstances, the girl’s suicide is expected — that she should have been left to die, rather than rescued naked. It reminded me of the deplorable actions of Saudi Arabian religious police in 2002, when they refused to let girls flee a burning school because they weren’t dressed appropriately, resulting in fifteen deaths. Valuing a girl’s perceived dignity as more important that her life is an unacceptable attitude in 2010.
Enthiran is also problematic in the way it equates dark skin with a propensity for evil. When Bora reprograms Chitti, he gives the robot a new external appearance, including dark-colored skin. The skin darkening is an unnecessary symbol of transformation, since Chitti’s also given a distinctive pompadour wig. Also, all three of the characters who threaten to rape Sana during the movie have notably darker complexions than the film’s heroes.
Given how goofy and fun Enthiran is as times, it has the potential to become a cult hit in the United States. But I’m not sure that American audiences will be able to overlook the outmoded ideas toward race and gender. I wish the film’s creator, Shankar, would’ve considered how these issues would be perceived internationally, especially since neither the nude girl’s rescue or evil Chitti’s dark skin are critical plot elements.
- Official Robot Website
- Enthiran at Wikipedia
- Enthiran at IMDb
- Saudi Arabian Girls’ School Fire
I see that the review is biased because it is a south indian movie.The fact is this is much better compared to any contemporary movie and should be appreciated for the sheer initiative taken ,where no bollywood director would dare to take.Given a modest bujget of 150 crores ( which is high for indian cinema ) ,this has been well crafted.Your comparison with Terminator kinda movies is absurd .
Thanks for the comment, Ram. I actually compared Enthiran favorably to the Transformers franchise, in terms of spectacle. The final action scene in Enthiran has set a high bar for all Indian movies — and even for some lower budget American movies. It was the rest of the movie that disappointed me.
Rajinikanth is a screen icon and a phenomenon. In tamil nadu, people consider his films are beyond a review or rating. It’s insane but too difficult to see for someone not grown up in that state. It shows up in your review from talking about Aishwarya (who is there just to provide a female lead character which is merely a supporting role in Rajini films – as everything else) and the feminist angle (where as there are no angles in a Rajini film – just Rajini). The review is totally off and that is what happens when you look at something off your limits with western sensibilities. So naive. http://www.slate.com/id/2267820/pagenum/all/ Can you understand this http://movies.ndtv.com/video.aspx?id=166924 mad-fanatic-craziness? Why so? Can’t fathom. You should have grown up that way to appreciate and live it up. I don’t blame you.
I saw this film The Killer Inside Me (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0954947/ and felt it’s so full of violence against women. My Goodness…! And what you are talking about in this review can’t even be compared to this film’s content. I would say films are just “something” aimed at box office collections and there’s nothing more to be derived from them. At least it seems so these days. Just feed what people would pay for. Looking for right or wrong and even better aesthetics (which can’t be defined) seems futile… It’s sad – how art is, in the times we live – and it seems to be same everywhere – u.s or india
This is a RAJINI film, people has to keep that in their mind, he will do only that is good by ethics.
Review is totally biased, according to a raw Robot saving a person is important, whether the person is dressed or not is immaterial, that is clearly pictured, there is really nothing wrong in this role, that scene is very important to the film.
Then Sana is trapped in a train car with a group of armed men seeking revenge against her is also important to show how strong is that ROBOT is. Director has to show Sana is in such a dangerous situation. Go and see how sexy and vulgar Hindi films are filmed in recent days. There is no sexy scene in this film. I never a director’s person, I never watched Shankar’s film in the Theater. I saw this film in NJ only because of RAJINI. I never felt any single moment sexy or vulgar in the film. Film was really entertaining. I don’t know who all are minting money from this film but we basically watched this movie because of RAJINI.
RAJINI, RAJINI, RAJINI.
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I’m more amused by the comments than the review, which is the normal viewpoint of a Westerner to an overlong, silly movie (no conspiracy here; I’m Indian). However, the comments: Now that is what I call insane!
Thanks, Catgunhome. 🙂
nice review.. as for the fact that the naked girl was being saved…I thought it was a critical point in the movie..you have to look at that scene with the context of where it is taken…it’s India not the U.S. and this is a very rural-urban area and the people there value their dignity more than their life…the robot’s actions raised something to ponder about, at least to the people who value dignity more than their life…even if it is 2010 there are people in these areas that behave like this and Shankar intentionally or unintentionally brings up a good point to think about…and I think that scene was a realistic depiction of what would have happened in real life in that part of India…and it is shame that it has to be like that but that is reality
Thanks for the comment, kuru. It’s sad that the scene probably is realistic. I just wish that Shankar would’ve had Chitti make a grave mistake that was less suggestive, especially in a film that’s supposed to be fun. (For example: Chitti’s super-strength malfunctions and he injures someone, proving the robot to be dangerous.) You’d be surprised how many people find this review by searching for variations of “nude girl Enthiran” — and I bet most of them are looking for pictures.
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yeah he should’ve chosen a less suggestive way to carry the plot forward but its Shankar…I’m not sure if you’ve seen his previous “serious” movies (Gentleman, Indian, Mudhalvan) hes always been socially conscious so it might’ve been his touch…or just a marketing gimmick to get the word of mouth about this scene and people will try to watch the movie just for that..you never know its all about the money.
Kathy, I partly agree with your review. I agree that the attempted rape scene shouldn’t have been picturized the way it was shown.. But it happens in India and all the director wanted to show was the real stuff. If that scene makes anyone uncomfortable then I believe that person lives far away from the ugly belly of India, or any country for that matter.
The girl comitting suicide scene is also an unfortunate reality. Rural women still value their dignity more than life. And its mostly their own decision rather than their family forcing them. It is not condoned anywhere in India. The scientist himself programmed the robot to value life more than dignity. This shows that the people in India can never be compared to the Saudis. You will never find people in India who will do what the Saudi religious police did. So please do not equate them both.
There were scenes that did seem like cartoon, but to make them look more realistic would cost the producers more. This movie should have been made with more money but in India its impossible. The director can’t help it, and I bet he realizes the low quality of that scene more than us viewers.
Now coming to your remark about skin color, why didnt you notice that the terrorists where fair skinned? Why didnt you notice that the evil scientist was also fair skinned?? You ignored them from your review completely!!! There has to be a balance.
The music, it was made for south Indian people. Tamil people liked those songs so much so that the album was #1 on iTunes. The lyrics were beautiful and poetic in tamil. And I guess they did a mistake when trasnlating it to other languages.
End of rant. ha ha.
PS: I like your site though.. nice to see an American reviewing Indian cinema.
Thanks for the comment, Rakesh! I’m glad you like the site. You make an interesting point about the music. It’s actually a credit to A. R. Rahman’s skills as a composer that he’s able to create such distinct soundtracks for movies with very different target audiences, like Swades, Slumdog Millionaire and Enthiran. Lyrics always suffer in their translation, but I guess that’s to be expected.
Americans have a special awareness of skin-color in movies. Before the civil rights movement in the U.S. in the 1960s, black men were killed by whites not just because they were black, but frequently because they were considered a sexual threat to white women. Because of that perceived sexual threat, filmmakers often made their villains dark-skinned to make them more menacing. That’s what bugged me about Enthiran: anybody can kill (the terrorists, the evil doctor), but only dark-skinned characters threaten rape. Maybe there isn’t an equivalent stereotype in India.
Hi Kathy, I didn’t know the way Americans viewed skin-color when it comes to sexual assualt.
But its not the same in India. We don’t have the Whites and Blacks divison in India like in US. All Indians have the same color…rapist or saint..you can’t differentiate them..
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I agree that the rape scenes are totally unnecessary and without them, it could have helped save movie-goers valuble time. The dignity-suicide scene is disgusting as pointed out but I cannot tag it as irrelevant. Because I know and have seen that this is a reality in almost 2/3 of the country where the film is made. And I know, there will be thousands of ‘those’ people watching this film and this scene might give them a chance to re-think their stone-age value system.
I do not agree with the comment on A.R.Rahman though. The music is crisp and apt for a Rajnikanth commercial movie. I have been listening to Rahman for the last 20 years and this is where he stands out from the rest – he is so versatile and is always in perfect sync with the script of the movie and the lyrics. He will be more appreciated if his every song was perceived as a stand alone product.
The review is good from a westerner perspective but you got to realize Rajnikanth is beyond logic and reasoning. If a movie was made with Rajnikanth just walking from one corner to the other throught the movie, even that would attract millions of people. That is the craze and magnitude of insanity you are talking about.
Thanks for writing, Gautam. “Rajnikanth is beyond logic and reasoning.” — I’ve come to learn that. 🙂 As for the music, it’s not my favorite of Rahman’s work, but I’m glad to learn from people more well-versed in Rajnikanth than me that it was appropriate for the movie. I’ll have to check out some of Rahman’s other Tamil film soundtracks.
kathy, good points. yes, this is where culture goes in. one person’s culture is to another person a form of madness. it goes both ways. European culture is viewed as madness by many old-school Indians as well. Culture is culture. It makes no sense and often defies reasoning.
As far as the reactions to your post we can deduce several things. 1) Many Indians illogically reject any kind of interpretation of their culture by a westerner. 2) Some South indians have a serious problem with North Indians, especially Hindi speakers. This is a product of British divide and conquer practices. 3) People worship Rajnikanth, who is just a man, not a god IMHO. But whatever floats your boat. 4) Many indians are unwilling to see colour stereotypes within their own country. The European historians will tell you this is based on the vedas. But a more modern interpretation is that the British promoted colour division based on class in the time they dominated India, much like they did in all their other colonies. So blame Britain. These things last a long time.
I knew about the ways in which the British inflamed religious tension when they ruled India, but not the extent to which they turned South against North and stoked color division. Thanks for the insight, Tony!
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Nice one. Truly original and unbiased review on Enthiran. Apart from the special effects, which was Hollywood’s work, no scene would pass through a Non-Indian,Non-Tamil viewer and register a memory with awe! Not one clip in a 2:54min movie!
Your review seems to conform with my interpretation of the movie to some extent. But I’d like to point out that Rajni Kanth has a sort of a cult following in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Over the top acting and cheesy dialogues are part of his cinematic identity. So his ardent followers go to his movies only to enjoy more of such acting, that would otherwise be considered overly dramatic by the rest of us. So in that sense, he is beyond criticism in many senses. It’s quite like Justin Bieber, whose music albeit is extremely marketable, might otherwise be considered very ordinary.
I don’t agree with your comparison of the rape scene with the events in Saudi Arabia. Contemporary Indian although conservative, is far more liberal than Saudi Arabia where oppression is so much more common. Also, don’t be so harsh in pointing out cultural references. The antagonists in American movies fit many stereotypes through the times. It was usually people of slavic, asian or nowadays middle eastern in origin. American Media is full of references of terrorism and being from the middle east. Again, you probably are fair in seeing it from a westerner’s perspective. But again, the movie caters to Indians right?
Although many Indians when asked act oblivious to it, there is a distinct divide in India based on skin color. A lot many people from the North consider people from the South to be inferior in a few ways. Part of the reason is that there is clear preference towards lighter skin due to cultural and media presumptions. The divide between the North and South is like a ethnocentric and internal Xenophobic practice within India. Also there is a sense of reserve racism in the south where sometimes people sense ill-will from the north when there is none. Also, India is a country of many different languages and cultures. I don’t agree entirely agree with Tony. Caste and class divides existed in India from before, and the British just encouraged it more. What the British rapidly played on was division based on religion.
Over all CGI in Indian movies falls decades short of what is expected of mainstream American movies. So in that sense Enthiran is a very good step up. But in this shift in focus, Enthiran does fall fairly short in terms of content, which as little to do with budget. It would be grossly unfair for me to compare, but look at Inception. It should be a stellar model for every movie, with the story line so complex and captivating while the CGI is top notch too.
I consider myself to be well educated with music. Perception of Indian music by westerners is well different from how Indian people perceive Indian music. I would agree that many would find this movie lacking in that aspect, but not to the degree that you do. Slumdog on the other hand is appreciated the world over because Rahman catered to western sensibilities using well the concept of fusion.
So those were my opinions. 🙂
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Tejas. You’re right that the Saudi Arabian comparison isn’t perfect. That was an instance of state-sanctioned murder. The Indian government — and the country as a whole — is far more progressive. I mentioned the Saudi Arabian event because it’s probably the only reference to a dignity-over-life case that most Americans would get. My reviews are written for Americans (and Westerners at large) who might not be familiar with Indian movies.
As for the music, I understand now that it was appropriate for the context. I like A. R. Rahman a lot, and I’d rank the soundtracks for movies like Dil Se, Raavan, Jodhaa Akbar, Lagaan and (my favorite) Swades ahead of the soundtrack for Enthiran. But that’s just personal taste.
Now, let’s get to work on a movie starring both Rajnikanth and Justin Bieber. It’ll be the most successful movie of all time! 🙂
Hi Kathy, I personally think you’ve nailed almost every single problem with this movie.
Reagarding the naked girl rescue scene, what these guys above me don’t realise is that in rural Indian cities, maybe they do value their dignity more than their lives…but that’s really not the way it should be. The professor’s scolding scenes following that segment seem to suggest we as the viewers were supposed to side with the mob, rather than with the life-preserving robot.
That’s certainly not right. Life is more important. A scene like that could’ve served as a commentary for what is wrong in rural society, but instead it was used deplorably, almost as if to encourage and respect their poor sense of prioritisation.
It’s not a great movie, or even a good one…but it’s a step-up from the usual slapstick Bollywood/Tollywood fare.
PS. I’m not from India so I’m technically western-bred.
Thanks for elaborating on the problem with rescue scene, Jayman. Very well said.
I watched Enthiran’s clever final action scene again last night, and it really is impressive, even on a small screen. In terms of special effects, Enthiran set a high bar for all Indian moviemakers.
Reading your review and the view of the comments by both 1st gen indians and the ‘western bred’ 🙂 Leads me to believe this movie highlights what we all know is the problem with the indian cinema culture. Indian cult figures such as Rajini and Amithab can do no wrong in the eyes of the indian mass. So what ever rubbish they make will still be watched by millions with admirration.
The indian movie industry churns out countless movies. their aim, simply to lighten the moods of the simple hard working folk of india, Diverting attention from their mundane and turmoiled lives. This is the history of indian cinema till today. So most movies depict the cliche of ‘super’ hero (the asian rambo/comando) and the heroine (supermodel/glamour model in indian eyes) and the villan (lex luthor with a splash of scaramanga with a neru suit). But this simple trio corney love story is the request of many, the apt comic timings and the extravagent dances keep the mass from questioning politics or why their lives are crap!
The key problem is when indian cinema mimics western cinema (which has been done more subtle previously) then the director forgets the aim and the political correctness that the western world has embraced.
The sensual rain drenched heroin being saved by or adored by the struting testoterone filled hero is a scene as old as movies themselves in the eyes of the indian movie watcher, but in the PC world its ‘sexist, masoganist and too sexual’. Just as kung fu movies have men with fake beards pretending to be all knowing masters who can fly and throw daggers at the same time seems B movie and far fetched.
Endhiran is a crap movie, steling ideas from bicentennial man and short circuit. But it is better than some of the west/indian trash being churned out. Money spent on music sequences and action scenes makes a good entertaining movie, a no brainer to watch. but it is not award material.
AS for the partial explicit rape scenes, yes they are not PC, but find me a delicately done rape sceen in a hollywood pic or an independent film. The aim here is shock for the audience, setting up a premise for the hero to do the job and audiences to see his great feat. I agree its a non-too subtle method of direction, but its the audience member who needs to decide whether they wear the indian 3D glasses or the ‘Western bred’ 3D glasses to watch this movie.
As for the naked girl / suicide, this behaviour of shame, unfortunately is a realitywith far worse issues in non-western cultures. Shaming a family by the female child is taken very serious leading to abuse, suicides, murders etc. Unfortunately these are the evils of an ancient society who ignore progress and common sense and believe in self appointed sharmans and village leaders.
So to the director, ‘if you wanna make a modern movie in india, make the subject relevant to indians, if u wanna cross the oceans then more PC, steal the good ideas from western movies not the crap ones’
to the Critic ‘You can’t judge asian movies with western eyes, little empathy for the genre and you will see the lighter side, however your critic has been the most refreshing i have read about this movie. thank you’
To finish this essay. If i had a stressed out day and i have many of those i’d watch this again, as i would watch kindergarden cop or the drunken master. But if i felt like watching a movie on my free time, i’d find something else.
p.s I am Asia born, westernised indian. I take the best of both worlds, and leave behind the worst. PEACE
p.s.s I completely agree with the comments made by Tejas. Skin colour is a big issue, which unfortunately in a cast based society is quite detrimental. Unfortunately this behaviour is carried by the asian comunity and arab community where ever they settle, albet UK, USA, Canada, Europe, middleast etc.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, KP. You brought up something that I’ve wondered about: how much responsibility do actors have in choosing roles that reflect a changing society? Superstars like Rajni, Amitabh, SRK and others certainly have enough clout to demand script alterations. I’ve particularly wondered about this in regard to some of Akshay Kumar’s recent movies. Kumar appeared in blackface in Kambakkht Ishq, and his character’s sister is gang-raped and murdered in the slapstick comedy Khatta Meetha. Slight scene adjustments wouldn’t have significantly changed the content or flow of either movie, both of which aspired to be light entertainers. It would be nice to see stars use their power to promote social justice in subtle ways, rather than just collect their paychecks. As charitable as most actors are, they reach many more people through their films than through their philanthropy.
As proof that colour divisions did not exist in the remote past, consider the mahabharat. Krishna whom we all know very well is depicted as blue. While some may claim this is only cause of his divinity, the name krishna means dark or black. Therefore, Krishna was dark skinned. Now let’s turn our attention to Draupadi who is described basically as the most beautiful woman on earth, who struck the heart of any man who glimpsed her. Interestingly enough she is also called “Krishna Draupadi”. Why? Because she was ALSO described as dark skinned. This is made very clear in the Mahabharat. If we have a pre-modern society that was very clearly colour tolerant and a modern society that is very clearly colour intolerant. Look at marriage ads in an Indian publication. Look at the skin lightening cream ads that are popular in India (but in the long run may cause cancer etc). What is the origin? The divide and conquer practices of the British, and before them the Mughals. We can even argue that this is a natural process. When one is dominated by another set of people, and all of the people of wealth in society, the bade aadmi, are lighter skinned, the average man will associate light skin with greatness. Add to this, the horrible oppression of the British occupation and you have a nightmare of racism.
I forgot to add that the North/South divide is also a product of divide and conquer practices. The British invented the idea of the “Martial races”. The Martial races were races in India that were in their opinion good fighters. They divided fighting ability on the ethnic origin. According to them Panjabis and Nepalis were martial races with the ability to be warriors but had no brains. That is how panjabis became so heavily involved in the British army. On the other hand, the south Indians were classified as non-martial races who were smart but had no fighting ability and were considered docile. Of course, this had NO basis in reality. It was British divide and conquer 101. Funnily enough, these same stereotypes are still widely believed in India today.
And as far as the origins of the colour divide in India, it was British historians that concocted the idea that the vedas were from Aryan, white-stock people who gave the native dark-skinned Dravidian races culture and religion. Imagine someone telling you that you were given your religion, your very essence of belief and living by white-coloured individuals. what effect does this have on the Indian psyche? The same effect it had on Hitler, pride in light skin-toned Aryan people. Hitler was so moved by this historical rubbish research that he adopted a Hindu symbol for his flag. Secondly, the Historians also claimed that caste were originally a racial division, that lighter and darker skin in the Vedas divided high from lower castes. What effect did this have on the religious-minded Indian society?
Tony, can you recommend any books (English, obviously) on how the British tried to turn Indians against one another during their rule? I’d like to learn more about this.
i do agree with u, men and women of influence should place their responsibility to better the mind of common men. That is if we lived in an ideal world. Actors such as Kamal Hasan and Mohan tried these in south indian movies, even though kamal remains in the mainstream the second has become anonymous. There are actors who try their game at political influence (incl Rajini, unfortunately he had no vote of confidence so stepped down). The script changes may make better scripts to make movies PC but unfortunately its the colour of money that oils the cinematic machine. Lets look at Robert Rodregez movies such as machette, some may take those as overly sexist, violent and highly rascist. but smart people look beyond this and see the irony and silliness. Most action movies depict women in a poor light, be it rape scenes or sex scenes, the more overdramatic the scene the better the hero looks.
When u are oblivious to your wrongs and influences on the silver screen its difficult to request script changes. Plus there is the artistic licence…. PC or not.
The other issue is Asian cinema even though has been around for a while is still young by world standards so hopefully time will have an effect. And critics such as yourself will hopefully help with this process.
“Aryans and British India” – Thomas R. Trautmann
“Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture” – Heather Streets
“The Myth of the Aryan Invasion of India” – david frawley
“Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority Through Myths of Identity” – dorothy figueria
“Fateful Events of 1947 (The Secret British Game of Divide And Quit)” – prof m. n. das
If you even want to learn about how british policies divided hindi and urdu into two or three different languages read chapter three of Hindi Nationalism found here: http://books.google.com/books?id=fmnpssOM_3kC&lpg=PP1&ots=qXLBGWeIhJ&dq=hindi%20nationalism&pg=PA17#v=onepage&q&f=false
nice review.you are right !indians have never grown up and the scene like death for honour is comletely stupid.such kind of sensitive issue should be handled more positively in a culturally dominated country.will you be free this evening,kathy? dinner at 8?
Thanks for the offer, Avinash. I’ll have to check with my husband first. 🙂
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