Before I begin, I want to take a moment to get this out of my system.
The ad for Aayirathil Oruvan calls it “in the league of The Mummy Returns and Avatar”.
All right Einsteins, Avatar and The Mummy Returns were certainly not in the same league in the first place.
Nor is the cheap CG-infested Aayirathil Oruvan.
Not by the wildest stretch of imagination are these three films in the same league but that’s understandable because Aayirathil was made at a fraction of the budget of the spectacular Avatar or the B-grade no-brainer called The Mummy Returns.
The thing about Twitter is that you get only 140 characters to get to the point and most of the time, two lines aren’t enough to explain the point.
When I wrote that the first half of the film and the second half of the film are of contrasting genres – the first being a B-movie adventure (that works because of the chemistry and sexual tension between the trio) and the second half turning into a dark, Chosen One epic war film, I didn’t really mean to say that’s the problem.
From Dusk Till Dawn and Teen Deewarein are fine examples of completely changing genre halfway and pulling the rug from right below your feet. So I don’t really have a problem with a filmmaker choosing to change genre halfway. The problem is that the filmmaker here has no idea of how to do it smart.
In fact, the problem with Aayirathil is more basic – why does the filmmaker spend half a film investing on chemistry between three people when the interplay between them is not at all relevant to the outcome of the film because well, the storyteller is to lazy to continue that story now that he has found another interesting one to tell halfway?
And why does the filmmaker not understand that the fantasy genre also requires an internal logic. Yes, Superman can also do quite a few things without any explanation and we buy it. Why? Because we also know what can stop Superman – Kryptonite.
We know not just what is possible but also what’s not. The world of fantasy is defined by the scope of the possibilities and exceptions to those possibilities.
In Avatar, we know humans can bomb the hell out of Pandora but we also know they cannot breathe without masks. We know they can fly their machines anywhere into Pandora but we also know that because of the flux vortex, the radars will not work and the machines will have to fly by sight. We know the Eywa can heal but we also know she cannot bring back the dead. And so on…
In Aayirathil Oruvan, characters have magical powers to kinky things like shadow-sex and get a comet or asteroid to set dolls on fire or bring back the dead but suddenly, they also don’t have these magical powers when they need to save themselves from bullets or bombs!
What’s even more silly about this supernatural adventure is that the conflict of the film does not call for supernatural elements or magic.
A Chola king sends off his little Prince along with his people to hide at an undisclosed location when attacked by the Pandias.
Centuries later, a team sets out to a remote island on an adventure, crosses seven hurdles (traps created by the Cholas) and find the lost civilization living in starvation and history repeats itself.
Nothing wrong with the story at all.
What’s wrong is the screenplay – something that requires specialised training and it’s high time Selvaraghavan got himself equipped with the art of screenwriting or employed specialists to do the job for him because he is a gifted filmmaker capable of creating unforgettable moments.
Selva employs three characters to lead the adventure – one’s the woman on a mission, another’s an archeologist in search of her father and the third is the modern day version of a slave. Interesting dynamics between the sexes as sexual tension and chemistry keeps the narrative cruising along the seven hurdles (all shot with B-movie flourish and cheesy computer graphics)… And suddenly, after they reach their destination, the three go crazy because of high intensity sound waves that make their ears bleed…
And the three actors who until this point were sticking to realistic acting (except for an unwarranted cuss-word exchange in English by the leading ladies) switch into over-the-top hammy portrayal of the mentally ill (it’s like a Mani Ratnam film suddenly handed over to K.S. Ravikumar at this point) and the film never quite recovers from this switch in sensibility.
To add to the period setting, there’s plenty of mumbo-jumbo, medieval rituals and an absolute lack of characterisation. Apart from the king and his advisor, an old man with a serious skin disease, nobody in that civilization seems to have a personality… his subjects are all dark savages with hardly any dialogue.
Suddenly, the woman with the agenda (Reema) seems to have acquired magic powers of her own as she takes her top off and produces a tiger tattoo on her back that appears and disappears. And the slave (Karthi) who also has a tiger tattoo on his back conveniently turns out to be the Chosen One.
One moment, the Chosen One is pissed upon by an urchin and a moment of bad visuals effects and hallucinations later, he turns a warrior and rides a rock-shaped yoyo to slay the gladiator and does a dance with a king – that one sequence bonding is entrusted with the responsibility of convincing us that the Chosen One is now one among the natives.
What about the third character we invested in? Well, Andrea finds her father instantly in the second half and but for a couple of scenes, she has nothing to do with the story. The father himself (Prathap Pothen), now a loony man has nothing to contribute to the script.
The film by now has turned into a full-fledged conflict between the Cholas and the Pandias reincarnate – a modern battle between primitive savages and state of the art ammunition with the Chosen One getting to do absolutely nothing! Why was he the Chosen One then?
Just to take the young Prince and run again to bring the story to a full circle! Ha!
Individual performances are not too bad at all. Karthi is brilliant, he makes the first half of the film work with sheer presence.
Reema has never looked hotter and Parthipan though over the top manages to entertain with some charming quips in chaste Tamil (the Linga Darisanam, for example). Andrea is totally forgotten in the second half of the film and has nothing to except to conveniently open up everyone’s handcuffs in the climax. The music, especially, the score is quite interesting, a job well done by the kid who stepped into Yuvan’s shoes for a film of this scale.
What’s been pissing me off is that a few fanboys are trying to convince everyone else who do not agree with them that it’s their fault that they didn’t understand and/or had different expectations. The film’s not that difficult to understand. It’s plays out like a bad dream without logic – you understand what’s going on but also know that it’s stupid that it’s happening.
Don’t confuse issues here, fellows… Selva made a film with balls and utmost conviction. So did Ram Gopal Varma when he remade Sholay as RGV Ki Aag. Effort or daring to walk a road not taken alone does not make a movie a classic. It needs to be executed well too.
I gave a 3/10 rating to the first version of the film because the second half turned into a completely irrelevant, indulgent film altogether that had nothing to do with the first half of the film (by which time we had invested heavily on the three characters).
The smartest thing Selva has done is to understand that he did go overboard and trim the film by over 15 minutes. This contributed to a better flow and removal of a lot of the flab and made me give him with an extra 1.5 points taking it to 4.5/10 being the best this film can be.
This does not mean my rating will increase with every watch. It means I am rewarding him for understanding that he fucked up the narrative.
The film works somewhat as a collection of some fun moments in the first half that work as a B-movie adventure and some wonderful dark imagery (the breast spurting out blood for example) in the second but never as a whole which is why 4.5 is the most it will ever get.
Yet, the film can be watched once since it at least tries to tell a different story. Don’t go with any expectations whatsoever.