If Chitti, the overperforming robot who can put out fires, halt trains, perform surgeries, replicate itself and fall in love, seems familiar, blame it on Jeeno, the robotic dog.

Jeeno appears in acclaimed Tamil writer Sujatha’s science fiction novel En Iniya Iyanthira (My Dear Robot), and forms the basis of Chitti’s character in Shankar’s science fiction blockbuster Enthiran (2010). Sujatha, which was the pen name of S Rangarajan, was collaborating with Shankar on the movie’s screenplay when he died on February 27, 2008.

Sujatha wrote several novels, short stories, plays and poems until his death, and contributed to the screenplays of numerous Tamil movies, including Roja (1992), Thiruda Thiruda (1993), Indian (1996), Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000), Sivaji (2007) and Dasavathaaram (2008). Enthiran took some ideas from the writer’s En Iniya Iyanthira, about a woman named Nila and her robotic dog Jeeno, who take on a ruthless government to solve the mystery of her missing husband. The novel is set in 2021, the year in which India has been run over by a self-proclaimed messiah named Jeeva.

Enthiran starred Rajinikanth as Vaseegaran, an inventor, and Chitti, his most perfect creation. Chitti goes rogue after being corrupted by Vaseegaran’s rival, and starts eying Vaseegaran’s girlfriend. Chitti will return in Shankar’s 2.0, and will be played once again by Rajinikanth.

Enthiran shares with the 222-page novel its concerns about the limits of technology. Under Jeeva’s authoritarian regime, identities are diluted and human beings are reduced to their identity numbers. Every living being has a social security number, without which a person’s life is made hellish (a foreshadowing of the Aadhar programme). The ever-smiling Jeeva controls the number of children that people can have, the time they spend on recreation, and the supply of rations and electricity. Citizens are put under harsh surveillance and are hauled up for dissent.

In this heavily controlled climate, Nila’s husband Sibi, a computer engineer, disappears a few minutes after the duo gets two uninvited guests at home – the rebellious Ravi and a mechanical dog, Jeeno.

Jeeno resembles a furry little dog, but it cannot be described as cuddly. Like Chitti, Jeeno is an all-rounder that can cook, clean, fight and resolve conflicts in masterly fashion. Jeeno’s sense of humour and presence of mind are a step ahead of Chitti. The high-tech canine frequently quotes philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell and prefers being buried in a book rather than deal with the human race.

But that doesn’t mean that Jeeno doesn’t have a heart hidden inside the gadgetry. In Enthiran, Chitti acquires emotions only after Vaseegaran inserts a “hormone simulation package” into his system halfway into the film. This intervention proves to be disastrous after Chitti starts coveting Sana, Vaseegaran’s girlfriend.

Enthiran (2010).

In En Iniya Iyanthira, Jeeno stays far away from sentiments, and begins to melt only when death seems imminent. The book isn’t without a hint of romance. “Naan iyanthiram aaga ve irundirukalam (I should have just been a robot),” Jeeno says when he feels afraid for the first time. A few more pages into the book, Jeeno declares that he would have fallen in love with Nila if he were a human being.

Sujatha’s interest in science fiction started with Sorga Theevu (1970), a dystopian story about the computer’s tyrannical domination of humankind. In the preface of En Iniya Iyanthira, the writer elaborates on his fascination for the genre.

“Science gives us the wonderful freedom to analyse thousands and thousands of alternative possibilities. While using it, and while playing with its new games, a writer needs to be cautious only about one thing. The story should should draw some parallels or association from the emotions and desires of the present humankind. Only then it becomes interesting. Jeeno, the robot dog might talk with a lot of intellect. But the character became popular only because of the robot’s frequently displayed human tendencies.”

— En Iniya Iyanthira, Sujatha.