7aam Arivu

How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous? I mean, how come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmo?

— Crash Davis, Bull Durham

Many centuries ago, a Pallava king named Bodhidharma went to China to spread Buddhist teachings. He brought with him, not just Buddha’s message of peace, but also the knowledge of martial arts that would one day become Shaolin. This much, Wikipedia tells us. To be fair, it also mentions that the Shaolin bit is a later story, but what the heck, it’s a good story.

The central premise of this story is this: What if the man from a millenium and a half ago…

passed on his genetic code to a man from the present day? What if Bodhi Dharma’s strengths and knowledge were stored in his DNA as genetic memory and passed on to his descendants? And what if the descendant was this man?

No wait, wrong descendant. Oh well, you know how Surya looks with less facial hair so you can fill in that part yourself.

The plot can be described as the love-child born of some high-tech silpongs between Jurassic Park and Pammal K. Sambandam (Kambakkht Ishq to you non-Tamilians), with some additional appendages (such as a Chinese Government plot to destabilize India and a mind controlling assassin) thrown in.

Frankly, I don’t think this is such a bad thing. The premise is entertaining, the director is someone capable of converting it into good masala, and you’ve got a major star headlining your cast. The science is a wee bit dodgy, but that’s often true of science fiction, isn’t it? The trick is to pile it on at such a rapid clip that you don’t have time to complain until the end credits start rolling. This one, however, wants to be taken seriously, and therefore chooses to have quiet segments that give us time to think about how absurd it all is. The pacing nearly torpedoes the film.

It’s not so much the genetic memory business that the film wants us to take so seriously. This is a message movie packaged as a sci-fi actioner, mind you. The messages range from how we have lost/destroyed the advanced scientific knowledge of our ancestors through our own ignorance and superstition and a systematic campaign by outsiders, to how the killing of Tamilians in Sri Lanka (never named, but never less than obvious) was not so much a failed rebellion as a systematic ethnic cleansing…

I don’t really mind that Murugadoss wants to use the film to convey his opinions. Hey, it’s his movie after all. What I do mind is that the characters suddenly seem to stop running from an implacable villain or racing against time to find a cure for a deadly disease so that they could jaw about these issues.

Having said all that, the film does have its good points. The film is about as slick as it needs to be, especially the extended action sequence where the lead pair is attacked in the middle of the road. The villain has about as much expressiveness as Steven Seagal OD-ing on Botox, but that works to his advantage here. Although Shruti Hassan doesn’t come across as a great actress, she is given a lot more to do than the usual Tamil film heroine, which is good to see. When confronted with a truly fiendish plot, the hero’s first thought is of revenge, and she interrupts him with, “No time for that now. Let’s first figure out how bad the problem is and how to do some damage control.” Sensible girl, that one. Some of the time, anyway.

On the whole, this isn’t as good or as bad a movie as it could’ve been. Now the wait begins for the blockbuster Hindi remake starring Akshay Kumar as a legendary kung-fu monk reborn as a simple-minded man deceived by a woman whose interest in him in scientific rather than romantic. I’m sure he’s never done that before. Not in the same movie, anyway.

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