Darling

Darling

My motivation for watching Darling was less in the expectation of experiencing an enthralling story (although I always live in hope) and much more based on being a Prabhas fan – which in hindsight was the right attitude to take.  Although the underlying themes of friendship and father-son relationships are reasonably well dealt with, the romance between the two leads follows a fairly dull and predictable path despite the attempt at a twist at the interval.  However Prabhas and Kajal are both entertaining to watch in spite of the inevitability of the storyline and for a romantic comedy, what it lacks in passion it more than makes up for in the humour.  Especially since for a change, the comedy is part and parcel of the story rather than a separate unfunny and irrelevant track.  Best of all, there is not even a sniff of Ali or Brahmi anywhere in the proceedings. There is plenty of Prabhas instead and really, that’s enough right there to make this a film worth watching!

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Prabhas is Prabha (why not just stick with Prabhas I wonder?), who is the devoted son of a loving father Hanumanthu (Prabhu).  The film opens with the last day of Hanumanthu’s time at college and the pledge of all the friends to meet up every 5 or 10 years to renew their friendship.  This opening section is all shot in black and white and the lack of colour ensures this section features some of the most conservative and tasteful outfits the men wear for the entire film, despite the fact that it’s set in the eighties.

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These reunions give the various families a chance to get to know each other too, and a young Prabha is smitten by Vishwanath’s daughter, Nandini.  However before love gets a chance to bloom, Nandini and her family move to Switzerland while Prabha grows up to celebrate his own last day at college with a similarly dedicated group of friends.  Although rather than vowing to meet up every few years, Prabha’s friends seem to be permanently welded to his side since they all come along for Hanumanthu’s latest big college reunion.  They all also play in a band together and seem to share Prabha’s (lack of) fashion sense (the manband!), although perhaps there is a rule that states if you are performing in a band scarves are obligatory.  The first half involves a side trip to Switzerland where amazingly everyone seems to speak Telugu, although given Dharmavarapu Subramanyam’s pronouncements that may not be quite so surprising.

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Prabha is hopeful that a meeting with Nandini will be enough to restart their love story, but there is a minor complication in the form of Nisha (Shradha Das in a very brief cameo) who is in love with Prabha.  Her father (Mukesh Rishi) is a local don and he is determined to ensure that his daughter gets whatever she wants even if that means forcing Prabha at gunpoint to marry his daughter.  Despite his threatening persona, Mukesh Rishi mainly plays his character for laughs and it’s fun to see him in this type of role blending mayhem with merriment and revealing a surprisingly sensitive soul.

While the main feature of the film is the romance between Prabha and Nandini, the relationships between the various older men are actually more interesting and appear more genuine.  Sure they’re cheesy, over-simplified and even a little too dramatic at times, but these moments give the film some much needed warmth.

DarlingDarling Stalwarts including Aahuthi Prasad, Chandra Mohan, Dharmavarapu Subrahmanyam and M. S. Narayana all work together naturally, so that they really do all seem to be old friends catching up over a few glasses of whiskey and a cricket match.  The relationship between Prabha and his father is also nicely portrayed and both Prabhas and Prabhu bring a realistic camaraderie to their interactions.  In fact throughout Prabhas is effortlessly charming despite the succession of ridiculously baggy and shapeless t-shirts he wears.  Nothing seems to fit and he’s much too tall to look anything but scruffy in wide-necked and voluminous shirts – plus the dual layered hats, inexplicable scarves and worn-off-one-shoulder bespangled jacket.

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Prabhas seems to have been lumbered with a stylist that hates him, and in a complete reversal of normal, Kajal is the one who gets to wear much more reasonable outfits.  There are a few misses, after all this is Tollywood where apparently giving someone fairy wings means they are wearing a ‘holy dress’, but overall Kajal looks fantastic.  She also puts in a convincing performance although it would perhaps have made the story a little more interesting if there had been a difference in character between the dream Nadini of the first half, and the real Nandini in the second half.   Kajal throws herself into the dancing, and apart from one bizarre attempt at what I think was supposed to be Bharatanatyam (what were they thinking!!) the choreographer has stuck to her strengths and put her enthusiasm to good use.  There is plenty of hip shaking and arm waving but less actual dancing, so she looks more co-ordinated than usual.  The choreography is a little less successful for Prabhas, but then again I may just have been distracted by those hideous outfits.  This is a beautifully shot song that features the scenery of Switzerland morphing into Hyderabad and also some beautiful CGI scenes of snow, along with some of the better outfits worn by Prabhas.

Added in to the mix is an attempted suicide by Nisha which infuriated me (completely unnecessary), a side story involving Hanumanthu’s adopted father and brother and a rival for Nandini’s affections in the form of Appala Naidu’s son Rishi (Santosh).  There are a limited number of fight scenes but with Peter Hein choreographing, they all look good and generally fit into the flow of the film.  The music by G. V. Prakash is unremarkable but Andrew’s cinematography makes the most of the settings in Switzerland – if only the costumes had matched.

Overall Darling is a film that’s not too taxing to watch and is certainly less gory and more family friendly than the recent Rebel.  Director A. Karunakaran ensures good performances from all but a sharper story would have made for a better film.  Worth it for Prabhas, Kajal and the gang of older actors who looked to be having a great time. 3 stars.

Maattrraan

I’m a big fan and I expect a lot from K.V. Anand and his writing team of Subha but sadly Maattrraan fails to deliver despite the presence of two Suriya’s, the hint of a good story and the best efforts of all the cast.  I was expecting the worst when I read about that the plot involved conjoined twins since anything even vaguely medical in Indian cinema is always replete with the totally impossible and that’s exactly the case here.  As if the ridiculous medical themes weren’t enough to deal with, the second half also has plot holes and inconsistencies big enough to swallow a small asteroid while it treads a well-worn path without any real excitement or tension. Just to cap it all off, Maattrraan also has one of the most ridiculous and unsatisfactory endings I’ve ever seen in a Tamil film!

It’s not all bad though.  The first half is generally entertaining and the interaction between the twins is engaging, but when the best chemistry in the whole film is between Suriya and himself then you know things aren’t looking good.

Suriya plays conjoined twins Akilan and Vimalan, who are almost separate, but can’t actually be separated because they only have one heart between them – which is only the start of the questionable medical statements.  Vimalan is intelligent, quiet and studious and completely different from his drinking, smoking and music-loving brother. They tend to overlook the fact that only having one heart means they share the same blood supply so if one twin was blind drunk, the other one would be intoxicated too, but logic never really intrudes on their relationship.  The differences between the two would have worked well for two fifteen years olds but seemed a little out of place in two grown men, especially since Akilan seems to be channeling late seventies Rod Stewart most of the time.

But the relationship between the brothers is the best part of the film and Suriya convincingly plays the part of the conjoined twins making them seem real rather than the product of a special effects team.  The twins are the offspring of Ramachandran (Sachin Khedekar), a genetic scientist who was forced out of Russia by the end of the cold war.  After some financial difficulties he set up the increasingly successful business of Energion, an energy drink for kids which consistently outsells and out performs all its competitors.  Add in a suspected Russian spy who is actually a journalist reporting on the connection between Energion and a health supplement which had serious side effects in a group of young Russian athletes and the scene is set for some dodgy chemistry and dubious genetic manipulation.

The film tries to ramp up into an action thriller, but since we know the villain is the rather mild-mannered Ramachandran along with his faithful side-kick Dinesh (Ravi Prakash) there aren’t many thrills to be had.  The fight scenes, especially one at the end of the first half between the twins and an assortment of thugs in an amusement park, seem to drag on forever. Perhaps it’s the challenge of the conjoined twins but even in the later fights, Peter Hein’s choreography isn’t as effective as usual.

There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for Akilan and Vimalan to be conjoined twins other than a gimmick to grab our attention.  It’s difficult to tell without understanding the dialogue, but there wasn’t enough in their relationship to fully explain why most of the budget had to be spent on creating the duplicate Suriya effect.  Especially since the rest of the film seems to have suffered as a result.  K. V. Anand films usually have great explosions, thrilling chase scenes and innovative fight sequences, but here the best of them are muted and the helicopter crash in particular is a rather damp squib.  Two brothers would have worked just as well, and although I get the nod to the fact that their father was a genetic scientist and the sequences with Akilan missing Vimalan in the second half were good, it wasn’t enough for me to justify the conjoined aspect.

Kajol Agarwal plays the role of Anjali, who starts off interested in Vimalan but then seems to change her allegiance to Akilan without too much distress in the second half.  Rather more believably, Anjali is a Russian interpreter which at least allows her to feature occasionally in the action and Kajol is fine in her role. Since the other female protagonist is the rather stilted and uncomfortable-looking Russian journalist, Kajol is also the better dancer which gives you a clue that the dance sequences aren’t anything too great either.  Even Suriya appears awkward for most of the choreography and the best thing about the songs are Kajol’s beautiful saris and skirts.  One song appears to have been shot in the Fjords in Norway and the scenery is absolutely stunning but also totally overshadows any hint of romance between Suriya and Kajol.

The basic story could have worked well, but it’s buried underneath all the CGI and far too many irrelevant trimmings that work against building excitement or tension as the plot unfolds.  Suriya is excellent and worth watching but that’s not enough to hold Maattrraan together. If you can watch with a willingness to completely suspend disbelief and don’t mind the constant clichés then this is probably a film that you will enjoy.  Otherwise wait for the DVD where judicious use of the FF button will likely make Maattrraan more watchable.

Sivaji (2007)

Sivaji is a wonderfully over-the-top film celebrating all things Rajinikanth. There are references to the superstar’s previous films and to his own life, plenty of classic Rajni style and he’s present in almost every frame. Sivaji also features stunning sets for the songs and a myriad of different looks for Rajinikanth throughout the film. While the story has an interesting plot involving corruption, the screenplay gets somewhat tangled in the numerous set-ups to introduce the next song or fight scene.  But in the face of so much else that is fantastic, the disjointed nature of the story doesn’t seem to matter. When the first song is as much fun as this, then the film is already a winner for me. This features Nayantara in a cameo role along with an incredible number of  men with round, jiggling painted bellies – I love it!

The film opens with Sivaji returning from the USA with truck-loads of money and deciding to set up a University and Hospital where everything will be available to the poor for free. His grand plans are opposed by local businessman Adisheshan (Suman) who blocks him at every turn. To make Sivaji’s life more difficult there is the practice of bribes and kick-backs that seems to be built in to the system at every stage. Despite his unwillingness to play along, Sivaji has no choice but to fall in line and pay everyone off if he wants to get his hospital and university built. I’m quite sure that all these people in yellow hats were the inspiration for minions in Despicable Me – or at least they should have been.

Ultimately this works to Adisheshan’s advantage when he contrives to have Sivaji arrested and charged in court. There Sivaji admits that he paid bribes to get permission to build and ends up losing everything. This might have been the end of the Sivaji foundation, but Adisheshan is the one person in Tamil Nadu who has no idea who he’s really dealing with and he rashly mocks his defeated enemy.  This sparks Sivaji’s quest for revenge, and the 1 rupee coin Adisheshan tosses at him to start his begging career becomes a talisman and also funds the start of the fight back. Sivaji devises a cunning plan to restore his finances and bring about Adisheshan’s downfall at the same time.

Rajinikanth is truly in his element here as the crusading Sivaji. He still has his trademark tricks, but this new  health conscious Sivaji spruiks the ‘cigarettes are bad for you’ message, catching mints and tossing his sunglasses instead of cigarettes. It’s all a little contrived, but the tricks are so much a part of any Rajni film that Sivaji would seem incomplete without them. There areplenty of fight scenes, and these are well choreographed by Peter Hein. The final showdown features some Matrix style action and Rajinikanth pulls it off with great style. If he has slowed down a little in some of the fight scenes and songs, well, that’s understandable but it’s barely noticeable. As well as the romantic songs, there is a fabulous sequence where Rajinikanth impersonates Sivaji Ganesan, MGR and Kamal Hassan and he gets really gets the mannerisms of the different stars very well.

During the course of his crusade against corruption, Sivaji meets and falls in love with Tamizhselvi (Shriya) and despite her family’s initial reluctance and dire predictions of disaster from the priest, the two go ahead and get married. Thankfully Shriya is much less annoying than usual, perhaps because she is totally overshadowed by Rajinikanth, but I stand by my previous observations that the more clothes she wears the less irritating she is. Her main raison d’être here is to look pretty in the songs which she does very well.

Other than her presence in the songs, Tamizhselvi is the ‘perfect Tamil girl’ of Sivaji’s dreams and that ensures plenty of traditional outfits and a fairly restrained performance, making her more tolerable than usual. Someone in wardrobe really does have a grudge against her though because she does appear in some of the worst outfits I’ve seen in the song ‘Style’.  I’m not quite sure what to make of this song for many reasons. As a song extoling style it has some truly dreadful costumes and the whole white-skinned Rajni just seems very wrong. I’m always perplexed by the quest for paler skin in India, but then I’m equally as baffled by the drive for tanned skin among Europeans. I don’t like the melody or the lyrics of this song at all, but it does feature an incredible selection of amazing wigs for Rajni and is worth watching for that alone. Pick your favourite style!

And the contrasting faces of Shriya.

While the film deals with the theme of corruption, there is still plenty of comedy along the way. Although much of the humour comes from Rajinikanth and his various mannerisms, Vivek is excellent in his role as Sivaji’s uncle Arivu and provides many funny moments. Even though I’d normally cringe at Arivu’s match-making technique of parading girls in front of Sivaji, Arivu’s character is self-aware enough to make this funny rather than crass.  There is more slapstick comedy in the scenes with Tamizhselvi’s family who disapprove of Sivaji and his exuberant family. The actor playing Tamizhselvi’s father (Pattimandram Raja) has some excellent expressions and I love the way he looks as if he smells something bad every time he sees Sivaji.

On the other hand, Suman’s Adisheshan is a very mild mannered villain without any real evil tendencies. Although I’m sure this is meant to make sure that all eyes are firmly on Sivaji, he still seems rather unimpressive in comparison. His demeanour however is quite realistic as a businessman with political leanings and his reasons for opposing Sivaji are understandable considering how much the free hospital and university will cut into his profits. His methods of opposition are also consistent with his character and perhaps S. Shankar is trying to point out that corruption can be present in even the most reasonable appearing businessman.

The second half of the film relies more heavily on the effects and gimmicks, and it’s disappointing that Vivek’s character gets more sidelined. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch mainly due to Rajinikanth’s performance. The music by A. R Rahman is excellent apart from the Style song mentioned previously, and the high budget of the film is easily explained by the song picturisations. The sets and costumes are totally fabulous and both Thotta Tharani as art director and K. V. Anand as cinematographer deserve the awards they received for their work. There are guest appearances by a number of established Tamil stars including Raghuvaran and Manivannan and  the support cast are all very competent, although generally overshadowed by the superstar.

Although Endhiran (S. Shankar’s latest film with Rajinikanth), had a bigger budget and even more special effects, I prefer Sivaji. The story is engaging despite the way it jumps around and Shankar shows corruption within government systems in a way that seems quite plausible. Even though the one man crusade requires a leap of faith, it is after all Rajni and so anything is possible. It’s one to watch for the lavishness of the sets and the larger than life presence of Rajinikanth. And for all those wigs! 4 stars.

Temple says: Sivaji is what I have come to think of as a typical Shankar blockbuster in that it is all spectacle and very little plot. I think Heather is being overly kind in saying there is a theme to the story as I see it more as a collection of ideas that never really develops. Shankar introduces statements about corruption, the brain drain overseas as bright graduates pursue careers outside of India, the returning NRI and how they navigate between worlds, the obsession with all things American being seen as ‘better’ than local, the clash between tradition and modern living and the nostalgic ideals that may no longer exist. All interesting, and yet there is no real exploration of these notions as there is too much else happening. We move from fight to song to comedy to spectacular song and rarely pause for breath. It’s hugely entertaining, but it doesn’t really bear analysis.

Rajnikanth is in excellent form and this is his film from go to whoa. Sure he is way older than his character, but it somehow works as he deadpans his youthful dialogues, daring you to not believe,  and throws himself into the action with gusto. The fights have been tailored to suit him, and the music shop sequence is one of my all time favourites from any film industry. Shriya can range from terrible (e.g. Kanthaswamy) to pretty good,  and this is one of her better performances. She handles the comedy really well  (I love her expressions in the “Chandramuhki” sequence), isn’t completely overshadowed by Rajni, and does justice to the massive song sets and costumes. And she manages to look like she isn’t staring intently at Rajni’s wigs in the romantic moments so I decided Shriya may be a better actress than I had previously thought.

See this for the spectacular sets and design, for a Superstar who can dominate the hyperactive pace and attention grabbing visuals, for the music (except Style) and for the filmi equivalent of a crazy amusement park ride. You’ll be dizzy and none the wiser at the end, but it was so much fun while it lasted. 4 stars!

Ko

Ko opens with an eye catching photo montage and theme music that incorporates thrashy guitars and angelic choirs. I immediately expected something a bit stylish, modern, urban with a splash of heroics and that’s what I got.

Unravelling the plot was integral to my enjoyment of Ko so I won’t discuss what happens in detail. The story focuses on two groups – journalists and politicians – and an upcoming election. The journalists are young and shiny, full of ideals. The politicians are…politicians.

Jiiva is Ashwin, a newspaper photographer. His camera is never far from hand and he is an acute observer. Spotting a bank robbery getaway in progress, he does what any ambitious journalist would do – gets their pictures. That he does it from his motorbike just makes it clear that he is the hero. I think Jiiva conveys the right blend of boyish appeal and serious drama, and he is just so likeable. He can do cutesy flirting and silly dance moves, and be blokey enough to walk into a dodgy bar and track down a witness. He delivers the action scenes with loads of energy and while Peter Hein has set the fights at the outer bounds of ordinary guy capability they are still true to the character.  Ashwin has a knack for seeing what is going on in the background or on the periphery of the action. This makes him valuable as a photo-journalist and really annoying to those he targets. His first reaction to any event is to get a photo and record what is happening.

Ashwin’s observations and photos often have a touch of sarcasm or dark humour about them. But although he jokes, he is passionate about justice and dragging the truth out into the light of day.

Karthika Nair is Renuka, recently transferred to Chennai. She is an established journalist but finding herself in a new city and a new team, she is a little lost at times. Her relationship with Ashwin starts off on rocky ground due to a case of mistaken identity but soon looks like love is in the air. She and livewire movie reviewer Saro (Piaa Bajpai) become good friends despite Saro having feelings for Ashwin. While this is primarily Ashwin’s story, the girls were strong and relatable characters. I liked seeing young ladies who could be friends, rivals and colleagues without being overly silly or unpleasant.

Work was the main thing all three had in common, and the work remained in focus throughout. Despite some of the less believable incidents, that work/life balance gave them a bit of credibility. Piaa Bajpai is OTT at times, but she needs to be to act as the counterpoint to the more reserved Renuka in the mild love triangle that develops.

I liked both performances although I think a real life Saro as a friend would have me investing in ear plugs. Karthika had more complexity to work with and I think she did well in imbuing Renuka with a maturity that I rarely see in film heroines.

The politicians are represented by Prakash Raj as the statesman Yogi, and Kota Srinivasa Rao as the uncouth Alavandhan – very different men on the surface but not fundamentally different when it comes to the goal of winning office. They both do what they do so well but neither delivers a standout performance.

Tying the two groups together is Vasanthan (Ajmal Ameer) – a young idealistic politician. He and his colleagues are trying to contest elections but are struggling to create a media profile and can’t compete with the bribery and standover tactics of major parties. He is educated, ambitious and a natural leader. Ajmal Ameer played Vasanthan with sincerity and conviction.

Events bring him into the media spotlight and eventually the young Siragugal team are on the brink of success. Then a catastrophe – a bomb blast at their rally – changes the game. The story gets murkier the more Ashwin and Renu dig.

The story starts off running in several different directions before things start to link back together. The plot branches are tied in by characters identifying patterns or spotting inconsistencies in someone’s story so there are a few ‘A-Ha!’ moments. Ashwin, ever keen eyed, spots a familiar face in photos from different crime scenes and that ties a Naxalite band to a local identity. Renu follows up on another clue and Ashwin is under scrutiny. It’s really well done, and kept me thinking about what could happen next.  The resolution is a bit predictable, but I was interested enough in what was happening that I didn’t really care.

This is pretty indicative of the visual style and editing. Ignore the crappy rapping and do a bit of star spotting as almost everyone in Tamil film makes an appearance:

The songs by Harris Jayraj are not unpleasant but I never really remember them without seeing the film. There’s the usual selection; the club song, the falling in love duets, the colourful ethnic costumes in the snow song, the college friendship song. The lyrics are often quite pertinent to the story so I was happy to have them subtitled on my DVD. Well, they’re not always that helpful…

Songs are used well in the first half but are a little out of place later in the film as events got more serious. I found the transition to Venpaniye a bit jarring as it is a lovey dovey duet in an ice palace just after a traumatic event. Jiiva is equal to the limited choreography and his facial expressions are often priceless. I got the impression he was having a blast doing some of the more comedic scenes and the dances. Karthika does more posing than dancing but her wardrobe often makes up for any lack of energy on her side. And the locations are sometimes breathtaking.

It’s not an issue film as such, but it does touch on many social and political ideas and problems as the plot develops. Considering some of the themes, there is a lot of product placement in Ko. There is at least a semblance of building it into the plot so while I politely jeered each new brand’s arrival, it didn’t bother me unduly. KV Anand (director and co-writer) glances at the interdependency of some media and politicians, the role of the police, celebrities in politics, freedom of the press, availability of adequate medical care and education among other things. The perspectives are offered from the various characters points of view so there is more discussion than lecturing. The commentary is often laced with humour and an acknowledgement that truth is not an absolute.

If you like the idea of a modern, urban thriller with some classic masala elements and young and likeable stars, this is well worth a look. 4 stars!

Heather says: I really enjoyed this film.  Yes, the plot does have a few too many twists and turns towards the end and some of the action is rather improbable, but the story moves along at a cracking pace and the lead actors all put in excellent performances. I got this DVD based on K. V. Anand’s previous films which I also enjoyed, and thought the reference to Ayan here as a film only worth 1/2 star was very funny. I would love to know if this was an actual comment that he received about the film!

One of the best parts of the film for me is the number of strong female roles. Not only the characters of Renuka and Saro, but also the fact that there are females characters standing for election, involved in the Naxalite terrorist group and generally well represented among the various minor roles throughout. I like the characters of Renuka and Saro and both actresses brought great individuality to their roles while still keeping them believable as friends. Jiiva is excellent and his journalist, while often taking suicidal chances in his quest for a picture, brings together the right blend of charm, action and determination to make Ashwin a compelling character. Like any good journalist, I think he has all the right characteristics to be able to schmooze his way into any situation. It’s the first time I’ve seen Ajmal Ameer and I must look out for his previous Malayalam films as I think he is just as good as Jiiva in his role here. While there are one or two moments in the film that don’t work for me as they seem too unlikely in such an otherwise plausible film, there are many others which work so perfectly that I don’t mind suspending disbelief from time to time. Ko has a well written screenplay and very likeable actors which make it a film worth watching. 4 stars from me.

7 Aum Arivu

After reading all about the buzz with 7 Aum Arivu, this was the film I was most looking forward to watch this Diwali. Especially since we had the promise of English subtitles for the first time for a Tamil film in a mainstream cinema release here in Melbourne. However there was so much hype in the build-up to its release that it was almost inevitable that it would fail to meet my high expectations. Despite an interesting concept and a generally good cast, the film pacing is slow with too many gaping plot holes to be anything more than just an OK watch. But there are some good points along the way and finally seeing a Tamil film in the cinema (with subtitles) is a definite plus. This is the first time I’ve seen Surya on the big screen and he certainly makes a good impression. The action scenes are well shot and I’m always happy to see a heroine who is capable of more than hand wringing, sobbing and looking helpless. I just wish they had spent more time on the actual plot and less on the set-up which takes up most of the film.

The film starts with an almost documentary style depiction of the life of Bodhidharma – the 5th century Tamilian monk who reputedly was the founder of the Shaolin temple in China. The documentary feel comes mainly from the interview style used and the lecturing voice-over as 150 years is neatly compressed into 20 minutes. The entire story is treated as factual although a quick internet search shows there appear to be a number of different versions around and no clear agreement on Bodhidharma’s lineage. But that really doesn’t matter here as the point is to illustrate Dharma’s expertise in war craft, medicine and hypnotic techniques, which these opening scenes do very well. Surya is perfect as the Pallava prince who journeys to China to become the ‘blue-eyed barbarian’. Yes, I did notice the blue contact lenses. Much is also made of the fact that people in China know exactly who Bodhidharma was while the Indians interviewed had never heard of him. This lack of knowledge of Tamilian heritage and history by people in India is pointed out a few times throughout the film and does become a tad wearing after a while.

Once the story of Bodhidharma has been established, we are transported back to the present day where an assassin has, rather improbably, been sent from the Chinese government to deal with a troublesome scientist and to initiate something called Project Red. The assassin Dong Lee (Johnny Tri Nguyen) is the top student of Kung Fu from the Shaolin temple and apparently an expert in all forms but seems to prefer the use of hypnosis where possible.

The scientist in question is Subha Srinivasan (Shruti Hassan), a researcher in the field of genetics whose work involves manipulating genes to resurrect DNA encoded attributes such as the fighting techniques and medical prowess displayed by Damo. Subha has tracked down the descendent of Damo who is most likely to be suitable for a little gene manipulation and he just happens to be the circus performer and general layabout Aravind (Surya). While Aravind thinks he has managed to trick Subha into meeting him to further their relationship, in fact she has been stalking him for over a year and has a scary collection of his discards including a tooth brush to show for it. It makes a change for the hero to be the victim of some determined stalking and I liked this deviation from the norm. Strangely Aravind is not as upset by the stalking as he is by the realisation that Subha doesn’t love him but just wants to get at his genes. Although from my SI filmi education so far I thought that stalking was supposed to prove true love but maybe I’ve just got it all wrong?

Not only has Subha been collecting Aravind’s DNA, but has compounded her dishonesty by stealing  a book from the local museum to further her research. It’s no surprise then to discover that her project doesn’t get past the local ethics committee although their reasons for rejecting her are more based on her youth and lack of kow-towing to their authority rather than her actual unethical approach to research. I found a lot of the science very funny since I do actually work as a medical researcher, often alongside geneticists, so have more than a passing knowledge about the subject. So while a lot of the science is very dodgy and eventually becomes implausible, it does have some basis in fact and it’s a relief not to have too much dumbing down of the subject matter. However the most unrealistic part of the film for me is Shuba’s apparently unlimited source of funds for her research – now that really was unbelievable!

Having learnt that Subha was only interested in him as a human lab rat, Aravind is devastated and mopes around theatrically (well he is a circus performer) until he finds out about the threat from Project Red. Dong Lee is also trying to assassinate Subha and decides Aravind needs to be removed too in order to guarantee the success of his mission. In between saving Subha and trying to save the world, Aravind barely has time for Subha to genetically transform him into Bodhidharma.

The first section of the film detailing Bodhidharma’s exploits in China is definitely the best part of the film. There is very little dialogue and Surya makes the most of his very expressive eyes to convey the various trials Bodhidharma has to undergo. While copious amounts of research appear to have gone into the making of the film, in this section it has paid off and it makes for a strong opening. Sadly though this isn’t maintained. The story has a lot of potential as it mixes science fiction with a disaster movie theme and a dash of Indian masala romance but it doesn’t quite gel. The plot rambles over the first half and it takes far too long to find out exactly what Project Red is and why Subha is a threat to the Chinese. The romance doesn’t work very well as a plot point and there is very little chemistry between the two leads. However I think this is intentional as Subha tries to keep her distance from someone she essentially sees as a walking experiment but there was a lot of time spent developing this non-relationship which slowed the story. There also doesn’t seem to have been any need to make Aravind a circus performer other than to make Surya learn a few new tricks since the whole circus background is totally abandoned in the second half.

Shruti Hassan is fine as the researcher and committed geneticist. She has plenty of passion and is able to convey the obsession necessary for Subha’s research although this does make her lack of enthusiasm in her romance with Aravind more obvious. She is particularly good in the confrontation scenes – those with the research committee and also with Dong Lee. Her character is strong, decisive and capable all of which she handles with ease.

Johnny Tri Ngyugen has excellent presence as the villain and exudes chilly menace. However there is a little too much reliance on his super hypnosis and not enough good old fashioned kick-ass kung fu for my liking , and this  slows down the action sequences. In one scene, where he hypnotises a large number of innocent bystanders and sends them after Aravind and Subha like destructo-robots, he keeps attacking for much longer than any respectable villain should allow before realising that the technique isn’t working and a change of tactics is in order. Perhaps it’s my over exposure to Southern Indian cinema but Peter Hein is an excellent action choreographer and I wanted to see more actual fighting between Dong Lee and Aravind. The few fights they had were worth waiting for though and I did enjoy the final sequence despite the overtones of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The soundtrack by Harris Jayaraj is great and I do love the songs, but while they are generally well pictured they don’t fit easily into the narrative and only serve to further disrupt the story. The exception to this is the first song ‘ Oh Ringa Ring’ which is fun and a good introduction to the character of Aravind. The songs are however the only time Aravind and Subha have any chemistry together so perhaps that’s one reason for leaving them in.

The screenplay by director A. R. Murugadoss is the main problem with 7 Aum Arivu as the film takes so long to get going once it moves to the modern era, and then is full of plot holes and unlikely scenarios. The last few minutes are dedicated to moralising about history and having pride and belief in your ancestry referring back to the lack of knowledge in India about the life of Bodhidharma. It seems very ‘Hollywood’, which seems to feel the need to deliver a sermon along with a happy ending, and didn’t seem to fit into a film which ends up being more masala than perhaps is intended. It’s still worth watching for the opening scenes and good performances from the leads, but just don’t expect too much from the actual story.