Bullet-point Report: “7aum Arivu”

Posted on November 1, 2011

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  • If it were not for a Tamilian, we’re told, the Chinese would have ended up wasted by disease (they knew nothing about medicine, apparently) and walloped by marauding raiders (they knew nothing about self defence, apparently). I kept waiting for a scene where the Chinese kept falling asleep and this Tamilian introduced them to a counteractive brew (it’s safe to assume they knew nothing about tea, either), and the other scene where he took pity on their barren shelves and taught them how to make Ming vases.
  • Some questions, though. Does Bodhidharman care more about his newfound Chinese compatriots than the wife and family he left behind? Or were they already dead by the time he lost his hair and consumed poisoned food and kicked the bucket? And if he knew about the cure for the disease that causes blisters and boils and bleeding eyes, why did he share this information only with the Chinese and not with his people back in India?

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  • Why are these movies about the glories of Tamil culture always made by directors who hop, skip and jump to exotic foreign destinations for their songs, which feature whites and where the hero is dressed like a hip-hop artist, mouthing words like “ragamuffin?” Songs and dance videos are exempt from “Tamil culture?” Considering that Suriya is a circus artist, you couldn’t have a down-to-earth kuthu paattu for him? And you have the gall to dole out advice about the benefits of kolam pottufying and manjal thechufying? When you’re sitting behind the director’s camera in jeans, having probably arrived there in a German car?
  • I was reminded of a classic (and thoroughly misguided) quote by Thangarbachan in Kalki a couple of years ago, when he took to arms about the “westernisation” of us evil-incarnate, city-dwelling Tamils. “Pizza saapidum Thamizhanukku Pongal thiruvizha edharku?” Words fail me…
  • This angst against the wretchedness of finger-wagging apart, this isn’t a bad movie. Merely an extremely dull one, burdened with having to demystify to the average movie-goer its high-tech premise. Which means explanations after explanations, mostly delivered in the very earnest enunciations of Shruti Haasan, who speaks, sometimes, as if addressing someone extremely hard of hearing but who can lip-read. (Strangely, while sitting through the film, I found it merely dull – but talking about it later to a, um, colleague, I realised I was more annoyed by it than I thought I was.)
  • Is Shruti Haasan the world’s most genius-level, most garrulous genetic engineering student? She goes on (and on, and on) about cancer-afflicted and mentally challenged kids, about bio-war, about DNA research, about genetic memory, about finding funding for her research. (I wish she’d shed a few words about Suriya’s transformation at the end, despite being hauled out of the lab in a near-vegetative state.) There are long stretches of the film where we feel we’re not watching a Suriya movie co-starring Shruti so much as a Shruti movie with Suriya as a sidekick.
  • Is Shruti Haasan also the world’s most transport-friendly genetic engineering student? We see her waiting for a bus. We see her riding a scooter. We see her driving a jeep. I’d like to know what she does for money, exactly.
  • The high concept extends to the love scenes too, where the director resorts to every trick to render them “different.” Rides atop elephants? A treasure-hunt based on the letters of the heroine’s name? After a point, it’s all terribly laboured.
  • I continue to be astounded by the elasticity of the masala template, of which, regular readers know, I am a die-hard fan. It can be adapted to anything, anywhere. You can connect the dots between, say, Aboorva Sagotharargal and 7aum Arivu, by pointing to the flashback with the “father” segueing into the present-day events with the “special son” completing the cycle. There’s even the background of the circus and a “onna nenachen”-type dirge by this man who works in the circus who finds out that the girl he thought was in love with him is not really in love with him.
  • There’s a general air of jitteriness in the film. Early on, there’s a breathtaking shot of Bodhidharman dwarfed by ice-capped mountains, but it’s held for barely a couple of seconds. Why not slow down and let the audience drink this visual in? Instead, the “slowness” is reserved for the action scenes, where it appears that every punch, every vehicle crash, every kick is rendered in slow motion. It gets tiring after a while, as we seem to be watching not the kinetics of real-life motion but some sort of frenzied dream-state action.
  • I loved the use of the tree trunk as a ramp, though. Of such cheap thrills, sometimes, is masala-movie-watching made. I also loved the idea of normal people turning killers, like in a zombie movie, thought the relentless slo-mo makes this tiresome after a point. Each and every shot doesn’t need to be a money shot. It’s enough if the scene or the sequence screams kaching.
  • Is that the easiest steal ever of an artifact from a museum? Used to high-tech laser beams being evaded and suchlike, I was reduced to giggles when Azhagamperumal simply took the priceless manuscript from Shurti and kept in back in its glass case, looking around furtively as if he were accepting a bribe or letting loose a long-suppressed fart.
  • It’s a little surreal watching Ra.One and 7aum Arivu on consecutive days. Both are backed by high concepts that need to be dumbed down, and both fail in different ways. One is a throwback to older Hindi films; the other harks back to older Tamil culture. The heroes of both films like to be featured shirtless, and both are in double roles that feature an early death. And both films feature a uniquely endowed villain with overtones of Terminator 2: Judgment Day – if Ra.One steals the shape-shifting characteristics, 7aum Arivu filches the action scene in the police station.
  • The difference, I guess, is that 7aum Arivu takes itself far more seriously. This then, is the conundrum for the mass-movie maker in India. Do you aim high, like Murugadoss, and risk failure, or do you aim low, like Anubhav Sinha, and risk being branded a generic product?

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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