If anyone needs to be commended for 7aum Arivu, it is producer Udhayanidhi Stalin. Not only has he spent lavishly on the film, but has also led a sustained marketing campaign to create a huge buzz of excitement and what's more, given the film as wide a release as possible, not just in India but worldwide as well. And the phenomenal advance booking surely would have him smiling to the bank. But the flip side of this is that the film comes with massive hype and expectations to live up to. And sad to say, it fails to fulfil them - in fact, it doesn't even come remotely close.
The screenplay and narrative flow coming from a man supposedly held in high esteem for his writing and storytelling skills are surprisingly weak although the story had enough interesting elements to play around with. And in fact, if the first half seems somewhat bearable even if not very engaging, maybe in hindsight, it is because very little happens. We are given a brief prelude to Bodhidharma's tale, some light moments with Shruti and Suriya, bringing in the odd smile but making for a weak romantic track and constituting too much time, him realizing she is using him and the villain, Dong Lee, landing in India and setting off Operation Red. That's it. But when the plot really gets into motion in the second half, the film goes haywire.
The plot of China attacking India with bio-warfare was treated pretty disastrously from what one read of fellow reviewer, Reel Reptile's take on the recent Hindi film Azaan, and it is no better here. The scientific mumbo jumbo of genetic disorders and DNA activation is pretty superficial and so, leave alone the silliness of the plot, we are treated to even sillier-but-trying-to-sound-profound explanations. And some very basic use of computers, the internet and laboratories to be told we are dealing with science and making a Sci-Fi thriller. In fact, for a film that goes on and on about the forgotton history and culture of Tamil Nadu and its valiant people, their contribution to science and martial arts warfare while hammering in the fact that one should be proud that one is a 'Thamizh', it's ironic that the film's 'scientific factor' has to be 'dumbed down' and be so explanatory for that very Tamilian to understand it. Of course, it would be justified saying that it is for those in B and C centres, I bet. I'm not even going into the many convenient and simplistic plot contrivances and even more logical loopholes as I would be then told that this is a commercial film and does not work on principles of logic. But, since the narrative is supposed to work on a scientific base, doesn't science follow some logic and reasoning?
As mentioned, the film takes much too long to take off. And forget the script, even the characterisations leave much to be desired. While there are some superb shots, especially of the vast landscape in the Bodhidharma saga, the entire portion is treated too low key and almost totally shown by using a voice over thereby rendering the entire portion rather flat. In this, even the characterisation of Bodhidharma suffers a great deal making him out to be to be, well flat as well and not so charismatic. Suriya's present day character as the circus artist, Aravind, is no better. For all the hype about him doing his own tricks, they hardly occupy any footage in the film. Then, he is conveniently never at the circus beyond a point and doesn't even have to use any of his circus skills later. So, why is he a circus artist? If he were to become Bodhidharma brought back, he could have been anything or anyone else and it wouldn't have made a difference. At least when you create a character, his characteristics have to be relevant and integrated into the script. Incidentally, do circuses today enjoy such full houses or is it only because the hero of the film works in one? Ah well... Damn the logic bits, remember? In fact, it is a rather thin characterisation of a strangely inactive hero (sacrilege for a big budget Tamil film with an A-1 star), who only fights in the climax and that too when the Bodhidharma DNA is activated within him. Throughout the film, he is led by the heroine rather than being active himself expect for the bit where he woos her. As for her character, the one positive is that she is at least integral to the story and not there for just 2 songs and 2 scenes.
I have not seen a script in recent times that gives a terrific actor like Suriya such little scope to perform (no, not even Aadhavan). Of course, he is too good an actor to ever be bad and does whatever he has to efficiently enough, but frankly, this film gives him absolutely nothing to work with, which is criminal. Still, there are sporadic moments you do see the ace performer in him. His look - like the cat who got the cream after he checks the videos on Shruti's mobile - is priceless. Or the sequence where he confronts Shruti and realizes she has just been using him. He is brilliant in the scene. As for Shruti, well she is a tad better here than her Hindi films and it has to said, she has improved from being embarrassingly bad to... still very bad. Her dialogue delivery is flat, lacks modulation and she is pretty wooden most of the time. Worse, she and Suriya do not make a good pair and lack chemistry. Hmmm, maybe she should have been there for just 2 songs and 2 scenes... The villain, Johnny Tri Nguyen, although no performer (at least on the evidence if this film), comes off relatively ok as at least he has a pro-active role to play in the proceedings making things happen with his super powers as he goes after Shruti and Suriya and 'hypnotically' kills everything in his way.
The technicalities are average fare. The Bodhidharma saga is camera-wise, the highlight of the film. The Production Design and a couple of the action scenes do deserve a mention, though by the time the much touted climax fight arrives, the length of the film really tells and you are frankly beyond caring by then. Even here, Suriya suddenly wakes up to kill the villain after getting thrashed
enough (yes, his hand stirs first) and that too it seems by the director and action master deciding - ok time to finish
the villain and the film now. Harris Jayaraj's music is strictly routine at best and doesn't help the film. If there is one song worth talking about, it is Yamma Yamma, rendered expertly by SPB, who proves that he is head and shoulders above the younger lot even now. However, the bad placement of songs, their ordinary picturisations and unimaginative choreography bring them down further rather than lift them, not even the O Ringa Ringa song with the 1000 dancers. As for Mun Andhi, a few pretty visuals in Thailand don't a well picturised song make. Yamma Yamma, in particular, is really placed badly, and poorly picturised thereby killing the best song in the film. And, like in Ghajini, here too Suriya's styling - hair and clothes in the garb of being trendy and cool is a downer. If the red pants in Ghajini were a horror, the loud, blindingly yellow shoes in the Yellae Lama song just leave you gobsmacked.
All in all, if 7aum Arivu was the most awaited Tamil film of the year, it is also the biggest disappointment. Touted to be up to International standards, those who watch International films regularly would surely have something to say about this. But big budget star films in India, and particularly down South, don't follow rational trends. The advance booking is already phenomenal and maybe all the hype and buzz might still help it through considering the huge number of prints released worldwide. Also, Tamil fans watch everything their star does with religious fervour. And with the jingoistic proud-to-be-a-Tamilian bits, the film might just satisfy them. But as a film, there are no two ways about it - a big no-no from Murugadoss this time. Oh and incidentally, what is the '7th Sense' supposed to be?
Finally, if you still want to watch a Murugadoss film, go instead for his recent co-production with Fox Star Studios - Engaeyum Eppodhum. It's a genuinely good film and a far more rewarding watch.