One of the best things about Red Giant Movies' 7am Arivu (Seventh Sense), easily among the most anticipated Tamil films of the year, directed by hit-maker A R Murugadoss [Images], is that it's chosen a distinct theme for its basic plot.
Considering the hype that's surrounded the movie, it's almost a given that you're going to end up with mixed feelings about it. It would be impossible to give a linear review for a film that traverses several plot-lines so here are the plusses and minuses of this Suriya-Shruthi Haasan starrer. What works for the film, first:
* The first half-hour of the film. It might be slightly in the style of a documentary but the camera-work, the SFX and the maker's obvious love of history transport you back 1600 years into the past, to the reigning Pallava dynasty, and to the surroundings of Kanchi, to a land that is at the height of both martial and medical prowess. It's here that you're introduced to Bhodhi Dharmar (Suriya), a Pallava Prince who leaves his family behind and journeys to China. His travel across the lands, and the way he slowly assimilates the life of an ascetic, casting away his princely robes is a revelation. It takes him three years to reach China -- where a completely different life awaits him.
* The present-day avatar of Suriya as Aravind, a circus artist who travels with the Grand Bombay Circus, and who hails, incidentally, from Kanchipuram himself. He's playful, hopelessly in love, but is more an involuntary pawn in the high-profile international age than a hero. It's supposed to be a Suriya film -- but doesn't really revolve around him, and so, you don't get to see him go all out acting, either. He does flex his muscles a good deal, so much that you wonder if he's turning into the Tamil version of Salman Khan [Images].
* Shruti Haasan [Images] does a competent job as Subha Srinivasan, and it's a credit to the director that she's portrayed as a geneticist, rather than an empty-headed heroine. If you can ignore her torturous Tamil accent, it does get better -- even if she's reduced to a pretty doll in the song sequences. The girl does have promise. The slight twist in her romance track with Suriya adds some depth.
* The villain, Dong Lee (Johnny Tri Nguyen), a real-life martial arts expert plays an unruffled nemesis and it says a great deal for his characterization that the audience starts whistling whenever he appears on-screen. For an antagonist, he gets almost equal screen presence as Suriya himself, and uses it well. He's naturally stylish, and is a treat to watch.
* The production values are, naturally, top-notch. Anthony editing, Ravi K Chandran's cinematography and the SFX work make the past come alive. Murugadoss shines when he gets his characters to talk about the richness of our tradition, the obvious advances Tamils once made in every field, before losing it due to continuous war and other onslaughts. He also gets points for bringing science into the mix, breaking it down into easy components, instead of going the masala-route completely.
Unfortunately, there are a few minuses too, that destroy some of the good work done by the team:
* The screenplay has its share of plot-holes. The "plot" concocted by India's [Images] enemies is laughably childish; the dialogues and situations that explain it even sillier. But what beats it all is the way our protagonists choose to deal with what is supposed to be a nation-wide crisis.
* It's understood that some element of fantasy is bound to be part of a story, when it's about a legend such as Bhodhi Dharma, but some more historical authenticity wouldn't have hurt. Also, once the first half-hour is over, the story line grows extremely predictable. Certain moments serve to pull up the sagging screenplay, but these are few and far in between. Moments of realism are pretty rare, and logic has gone for a toss in the second half. The feeling of disappointment is added, as you're led to expect something truly fantastic in the first half.
* Harris Jeyaraj's music usually adds pep to the proceedings; here, they are a severe let-down here, not to mention the fact that they hamper the proceedings and act as a stumbling-block. Removing them would have aided the movie a good deal.
7am Arivu has several things working for it -- its historical background, and a rock-solid villain who uses mind-control, and an intelligent heroine, among other things. You just wish they had utilized all these ingredients better.