The film begins with in 6th century Tamil Nadu and narrates the legend of Bodhidharma as a form of setting the back story straight. History lesson over, we fast forward to today and a plan against India devised by China is being actioned with our bad guy, a Chinese agent named Dong Lee [John Tri Nguyen]. His target? A geneticist [not a scientist] named Subha Srinivasan [Shruti Haasan]. How her research on genetic engineering and genetic memory ties the descendant of the 6th century patriarch, a circus artist named Aravind into Dong Lee's line of fire forms the crux of this conspiracy-sci-fi-action caper. There is little bit of love, history and loads martial arts along the way so its does behave like a masalafied version but the premise is something you wouldn't have seen before.
Due credit must be given to A.R.Murugadoss as a writer as he has gone to great lengths to research and insert the ideas of genetic memory stimulation, Tamil history and high level conspiracy for the common man to understand. Murugadoss' choice of Surya in the lead role works for the film as the actor dazzles once again. Even though Bodhidharman makes a bigger impression, the playful Aravind is good as well and the extent the actor has gone to for the characters is plain for all to see. Shruti Haasan is marking her debut in Tamil with this film and makes an honest effort to play it well. While there are a few things she needs to improve, as a newcomer she does well in a meaty role and isn't playing a ditsy college goer. In fact, there are moments where she is the brains of the outfit and Suriya the brawn, a nice change from the usual. John Tri Nguyen has played the bad guy before but he fits the bill with his sinister hypnotism act well and his background in martial arts is also evident. Its been a while since the bad guy had equal or even more screen time. Abhinaya is hardly there, Illavarasu has two scenes and Pakru plus the circus gang get lost when the story shifts gears.
Technically enriching, Ezhaam Arivu boasts of a particularly credible crew. Ravi K Chandran behind the camera works magic right from the first shot. He depicts the surroundings with style but nothing too OTT. Anthony at the editing board makes the film flow neatly. Special mentions need to be made for the action director, Peter Hein and art director, Rajeevan. Both have put in a lot of effort and it is evident on screen. The SFX plays a big part in the film to depict the fictional past and the action packed present. As a team, each member has taken forward their craft and as captain of the ship, A.R.Murugadoss gets the best out of them.
Yet Ezhaam Arivu is not without its shortfalls. As much as Subha and her research are given importance, the is no reason or purpose for Aravind to be in the circus. Nor is there enough screen time to show his antics. While the light moments cause a few giggles, the first half spends a lot of time on a 2 dimensional love story that really doesn't have enough merit to it, regardless of the effort put in by the actors. The holes in the conspiracy are gaping wide and the 1980's dialogue mouthed by the Chinese characters don't help. An odd fact since its the same Murugadoss who wrote the dialogue that makes sparks fly when speaking about Tamil culture. It is nice to see he has tried to bring to attention the pressing issue of knowing your heritage and the culture behind it in amongst the story. [This is something which this writer believes is relevant to all cultures, not just Tamils, but that is a separate issue.] However, it deviates from the entertainment factor which the director himself has requested for. Maybe the patriotism side of the viewer is the target but the emotion is not always consistent enough to pull it through. The pre-climax drama also seems way too far-fetched to be believable and the decision to do the experiment is definitely dipped in masala mayhem sauce. Cinematic liberties are part and parcel for filmmaking but this isn't something you would expect after the history lesson you get in the beginning. And finally, the music. Harris Jeyaraj is indeed extremely talented, but the fact that more than one song seems like a spin-off of a track from his own discography is not a nice feeling. The positioning of the songs should have been rethought since they act as additional speed breakers for a slow first half.
So the final verdict on what has to be one of the most anticipated and biggest films in Surya's career is watch it for John, the SFX and Suriya. Try not to think about the logic behind it all.