We should have known from all the promotional activity of the film that is going to be some sort of rhetorical hogwash trying to ride on the legacy of some strange fact in history. It is the story of the (scientifically constructed) revival of a 16th century warrior/ saint/ medical practitioner (5th- 6th century AD – as promptly corrected by Muthukumar – Edit made on 30 Nov 2011.).
I generally abstain from bringing in film theory into my writing (though I am more convinced by the day that I should). 7 Am Arivu, however, is by far the best example of what Marx called false consciousness. In very simplified form, Marx’s argument that the proletariat is always kept in a state of false consciousness (of a fair treatment in society) to ensure status quo in a capitalist economy is the premise of most Marxian film criticism.
Spoiler alert: on @Psankar’s request!
Bodhidharman – the Tamilian Superman
7 Am Arivu (the Seventh Sense) begins with a (heavily opinionated) documentary film about Bodhidharman, a 16th century prince who has mastered multiple forms of art, who was sent to China to save the country from the evil. He goes there and saves a village full of Chinese from a deadly disease. He also fights a single-handed war against invaders and protects the country from them. He goes on to become Damo, the father of Shaolin and Kung Fu and hypnotism and such other.
The first 10-12 minutes are showered with generous references to veeram (valour), nermai (honesty), mariyadhai (respect – for elders), thiramai (skill) and such other attributes that established Bodhidharman as god and Tamil-ness as godliness.
Udal mannukku uyir Tamizhukku
After a few decades, 7 Am Arivu has brought back the blatant Tamil rhetoric to cinema. Throughout the film, practically everyone (apart from the Chinese villain and his Indian support) talk in immense pride about being Tamil. Suba (note that it is not the north-Indian Shubha) talks in details standing inside a museum in front of ancient weaponry about “nijamaana Tamizhargal” that only our ancestors are. However, it is important to note that the name Suba Srinivasan and her clearly upper class looks leave out the Dravidian rhetoric out rather tactfully. Also, the professor who first supports her and then turns out to be a traitor is one ‘Mr. Rangarajan’.
Convenient Tamil-ness, perhaps!
The scene where she meets big heads about her thesis on DNA research (written over 1000 years ago) based on scriptures by a Tamil man is carefully carved to get whistles from the audience, purely tickling their (inferiority and) superiority complexes about being Tamil. The exaggeration of her desire to speak in Tamil, her being ill-treated for being young (but noticeably not ill-treated for being a woman), and the tangentially equating Tamil – the language – to a monkey Vs. English – to a man all go on to prove the total lack of premise for the film to rest on. There is also a lesson on – remaining in India (and not moving abroad) in the end of that scene. Wonder if the director didn’t consider that Bodhidharman was an NRI himself!
Aravind, played with a lot of conviction by Suriya, also reads out pages about Tamil culture throughout the film. The scene in the forest where they all decide to bring back the Bodhidharman in Aravind is a loosely written ideological discourse. References to Ealam and the war in Sri Lanka are totally out of place and more importantly, trivialise the situation in Jaffna. I hope 8 Am Arivu won’t be a story in Sri Lanka!
China is the new Pakistan
The most shameful of all things about 7 Am Arivu is the use of ‘China’. Suriya saving India from the Chinese is no different from the Arjuns and Vijaykanths who saved India from Pakistan.
Bodhidharman (as the film itself says) went to China out of volition and chose to train the Chinese against training Indians in Kung Fu. After a thousand years and more, the Chinese waging a biological war against India is such a disgusting connection drawn by the most flimsy thinkers of our time.
Bringing a Chinese man to kill a helpless woman in some corner of the Tamilnadu and portraying him as a monster is such stereotypical load of crap. The Chinese paying Rs. 300 Crores to one man who is helping the Chinese kill a researcher does not sound much of political warfare to me. Even worse, there is a scene where Suba says (something to the effect that), “Ungalaala mudinja Indian army kuda sanda podunga da. Yen da makkal mela ipdi noya parapparinga?” (If you can, fight our Indian army. Why are you spreading diseases among the people?) Director does not read history unless it is less that a 1000 years old, I gather!
The censor board has gone out of the way to mute the word ‘Government’ after every time someone says ‘Chinese’. Good effort, I must say. But the scene where Dong Lee (the infamous Chinese villain in the film) is introduced, there are men in blazers and uniforms sitting around a table plotting the complete surrender of India to them. Does the censor board think that was all right for our bilateral relations? Really?
The woman is a manipulator
Suba, played by the synthetic Shruti Hassan, is the only woman character to speak of in the film. She is doing some sort of research in genetic engineering.
Through the first half of the film, Suba follows Aravind, collects samples of his blood, and uses him as her research sample without his own knowledge. Strangely in Tamil cinema, such people happen to be women, especially when they use ‘love’ as a weapon against harmless men. Why didn’t the writer see the researcher as a man – a brother, a friend, a father figure or some such?
One day when he finally finds out that he was being used for research (even when he has no idea what research it is), Aravind feels cheated and sings a song that is the peak of Tamil rhetoric about women. We’ve seen a million like this. Just a few sample lines here.
Aanoda kaadhal kai regai pola. Pennoda kadhal kaikuttai pola.
Ponbalaiya nambi kettu ponavanga romba. Andha varisaiyil naanum ippo kadasiyil ninnen.
Vandhu ponadhaaru oru nandhavana theru. Nambi nondhu ponen paaru ava poo illa naaru.
7 Am Arivu is a pretentious rhetorical disaster that tells the viewers what to think about themselves, what to take pride in and what to be like. The camera work is pleasant to watch, a few songs are interesting (though all of them misplaced in the film), the stunt work is gory (intended, I presume), the dialogues are pretentious (Shruti Hassan needs to take some Tamil pronunciation lessons too) and the acting (apart from Suriya’s) is average.
But what bothers me most is the fact that Tamil cinema is going down the drain with rhetoric, condescension and unfounded arguments. All (allegedly) thinking directors taking this easy route to success aches my heart. In the least, such trash should stop being pitched as world-class cinema.