Like Appuchi Gramam, Indru Netru Naalai is “local” sci-fi – and this localisation is the best part. The story is about a time machine from the future that falls in the hands of two men in the present who have to go back in the past so they can remain who are… in the present. In other words, it’s the standard time-travel pretzel narrative. There’s always a mad scientist in this sort of story, and here we have Parthasarathi (TM Karthik) who’s working on an automobile that can be operated through voice-recognition software. But that won’t pay the bills, so we have Parthasarathi’s day job as the proprietor of Edison Electricals. Talk about relativity – he fixes fans and mixers. In an early scene, he’s grinding a mix for a customer whose family demands onion chutney. It makes you wonder: If Einstein had been born here, would he have ended up doing the wiring at Emcee Square?
The director, Ravi Kumar, begins with a gnomic Kurt Vonnegut quote from Slaughterhouse-Five: “All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.” And he continues to “explain” – throughout the film – the sci-fi nuts and bolts that rivet this story. So yes, there’s the inevitable amount of spoon-feeding – but the surprise is how smoothly it all goes down. There’s always something clever. Take the scene that contains a long, involved conversation between two scientists about the time machine. The talk is the meat – but there’s also a dog eying a holographic bone, an offhand visual that lightens things up. The non-sci-fi exposition – say, the introduction of the leading man (Ilango, played by Vishnu Vishal), juxtaposed with the “predictions” of an astrologer (Karunakaran, as Pulivetti Arumugam) – is equally inventive.
Karunakaran keeps us smiling with his lines, and the “lost and found” business that Ilango cooks up with Pulivetti Arumugam is a riot. (This may be the only time you crack a smile about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight.) But some of the setups needed more breathing space. Like the bit about Pulivetti Arumugam heading back in time and clocking a boy – his maths teacher-to-be – on the head. It’s a great idea, but it isn’t allowed to blossom into a great gag. And while the romantic track (with Mia George, last seen in Amara Kaaviyam) is smartly woven into the proceedings – the mandatory duet is a series of time-travel scenarios – the crucial angle with the gangster Kuzhandaivelu (Ravi Shankar) isn’t thrilling enough. These portions are sluggish when they should be zipping by at the speed of light.
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