Vikram Kumar’s Surya-starrer 24 is the kind of film that would be fiercely defended by casual movie-goers, especially in the current array of mediocre entertainment movies in Tamil.
’A high-concept film with a marvelous execution’, ‘a good mix of romance and sci-fi,’ ‘Suriya is back on the rise and Samantha is so bright & beautiful’ are the kind of reviews we’d come across on social media.
In my humble opinion, 24 is yet another mediocre film with a shiny production value, but flabby, unsought elements, in the name of romance, family sentiment. It intrigues in the glossy trailer but then lambasts us with a weak, annoying script. Nevertheless, one person’s mediocrity will be another person’s fantastic achievement.
Is 24 the best entertainer Surya or Vikram Kumar or Tamil cinema could offer? I’d like to register a soft ‘no.’ The movie’s opening premise withholds fine, small details paying tribute to Superman’s origin story.
Surya playing the soft, bespectacled scientist Sethu Raman is in the process of inventing his dream device. His wife cradling their little baby requests him to put off the invention, alluding that it may bring out a malevolent force. The smoke rising from the steam engine, traversing the hilly terrain, the vintage car waiting at a rail crossing, and the gradual unmasking of General Zod-like Athreya is visualized well. Athreya, unlike Zod isn’t an old friend who had turned up against Jor-El. He is Sethu Raman’s identical twin brother, waiting on the prowl for the success of the experiement.
Before the home invasion of Athreya, Sethu places his little son in a contraption that resembles a small version of Kryptonian space shuttle.
The arrival of evil twin brother makes Sethu hide the coveted device too in the contraption. And like the patriarchal figure Sethu in Kamal’s ‘Apoorva Sagodharargal’ aka ‘Appu Raja,’ this Sethu is also brutally killed. Of course, the device and the toddler are safe in the hands of a yasodha-like selfless mother. The rest is about Athreya’s 26-year quest for the lost device and how Mani (Sethu’s son) stumbles upon his past to transform his destiny.
Despite the revenge angle and age-old evil twin elements, the time-travel concept (yes, that ‘device’ is a time traveling watch) lends enough room to make 24 entertaining.
Director Vikram beautifully uses the wheels of a steam locomotive, the clockwork mechanisms of laboratory or even little watches to establish the sense of flowing time. Clocks become a recurring visual motif. There’s a nice inside joke to the way Sethu’s son is named Mani (time), especially when you think about how Sethu is saved by literal and figurative ‘Mani.’ The sequence when Mani finds out the workings of the time traveling watch is well-staged.
The literal re-winding of clock in Mani’s shop (Mani is a watch mechanic) and the little old clock (in the left corner of frame) may seem to be taking the concept too literal, but it explains the concept to those uninitiated with time travel movies. Of course, curiosity for the device isn’t the first thing in hero Mani’s mind. This being a mass entertainment film, he uses it to manipulate the emotions of the light-skinned girl he loves. Athough ‘love’ may not be the exact term to describe his feelings.
He dances to an okay-ish A.R. Rahman tune and later freezes time, runs back in time to do everything to make the girl (Samantha) fall for him. It’s not like ‘Groundhog Day,’ but there are some delights in these sequences. Particularly when Mani decides to change the result of a cricket match. But, when the so-called romance between our duo blooms, things get more annoying.
Samantha looks beautiful and plays the kind of mainstream movie girl, who’s got one or two screws loose in the head. She is an agriculture college student and has sentimentally wacky creatures as family members. The fact that the multi-talented Girish Karnad is playing one of these wacky family members is even more heart-wrenching. If you are wondering why these characters even exist, you’ll know in the film’s most abominable family episode in the second half. This familial get-together is so bad we would side with Athreya, wishing him good luck in killing them because by that point, Surya and Samantha’s romance also becomes so stale. Even the lush foreign atmosphere for the duets tortures our soul.
24 isn’t without high-octane moments, but they are few and far between. The portions before the interval block circumvent our expectations. What we expect from then on is a crafty cat-and-mouse game. Alas, the crafty game is replaced by irritating bouts of mawkish moments. Vikram firmly placed the familial theme in Yavarum Nalam (horror genre) and Manam. Here it sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s no surprise that Surya has done his role of an entertainer well. However, I felt his portrayal of Athreya is more swagger, less menace (Rajnikanth or Sathyaraj marvelously balance both). The songs and background music (not bad) definitely make us double–check the credits, when it claims A.R. Rahman is the music director.
24 (164 minutes) has enough exciting elements to set the benchmark for Indian or at least Tamil sci-fi genre. But, all the sloppy sentiments and ridiculous romance only make it a ‘could have been.’
Have you seen 24? What did you think about the film? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments below!
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’