If Kamal Haasan had his Dasavatharam with oodles of make-up and a blast of Chaos Theory, then this can easily be called Surya's Dasavatharam -- minus a couple of incarnations, of course. Rarely do actors -- even the good ones -- get such scope and screen-space to play out every intricate detail.
Aascar Ravichandran's Tamil movie, Vaaranam Aayiram (A thousand Elephants), directed by Gautam Vasudev Menon is almost a love-story with Surya, and no one but Surya at it's epicentre.
Also Read: Showcasing Vaaranam Aayiram
The beginning shots of a doddering Krishnan (Surya) at the fag end of life, still eager to live his life, come with an expectant twist. Even as you appreciate the make-up and the body language that brings an old man to life, there's a trim and fit Major Surya (Surya) in the Indian Army, who is part of a rescue mission.
Meanwhile, Krishnan's wife Malini (Simran) and daughter Shreya make him lie down as he goes into the throes of sickness -- and even as he breathes his last, his son remembers all the things that made his father he Who had the Strength of a Thousand Elephants -- and his own journey towards becoming one.
Gautham Menon has crafted a moving story, calculated to describe in the minutest details the story of an ideal father: Krishnan is a merry, strong individual who sweeps Malini off her feet (the Mundhinam Parthene song sequence is a rollicking riot from the 70s, with even the old Spencer's Plaza painstakingly re-created digitally). The moment they set eyes on each other, they know that their fate is bound sealed. Years roll, and there appears Surya, their son -- who moves through life, experiencing the same kind of love with Meghna (Sameera Reddy) -- and Priya (Divya Spandana).
Surya has obviously been on a roll. For those who thought a thirty-something could never go back to being a 17-year old, here's a newsflash: with his paltry moustache and perky enthusiasm, Surya's perfect.
As a love-struck young man who falls flat on his face for Sameera Reddy, he's adorable. As a drug addict faced with life's greatest trials, he's marvellous. But when he appears on screen as six-pack moulded Major, the whistles hit the roof.
In every instance, he's subtly altered his body language, the expression in his eyes, the indefinable something that marks the difference between a father and son -- and even in the various stages of a son's life, he's managed to alter himself. This one is clearly is magnum opus among the films he's done so far.
Sameera Reddy is buxom, full of life and creates a pang in your heart. Divya Spandana earns your respect with her sober demeanour. And Simran, as Malini, fits her role to the hilt. Sometimes you wonder if this was once the heart-throb that acted in skimpy outfits with Surya himself -- and you have to laud her for how well she's done her job.
Harris Jeyaraj's songs have already become chart-busters; his background score gels well with the movie.
Rathnavelu's camera is smooth at certain times; gives a jerky feel at others, creating the impression that you're watching an intimate scene within a family -- and both work.
So, aren't there any pitfalls? Is this Gautam Menon's beautiful, perfect classic? Hardly. Yes, it's a very moving tribute to a perfect father and loving son; the screenplay does move swiftly in the first half -- but at times, the father grows too perfect; the son too loving. Krishnan is so completely the ideal of a father-figure that you wonder if such men actually exist in real life.
More than half the conversation is in English too, and it's generally up-market -- a non-urban audience might not relate too easily to this film.
At three hours, this one is too long -- a healthy snip would have made for much better viewing. Towards the end, you wonder if so much detail really is necessary.
But if you ignore the lagging last hour, some dialogues and too-ideal situations, the movie is clearly a movingly visualised tribute to fathers and sons by Gautam, and beautifully portrayed by Surya, a brilliant actor.
It might be just a feather in Gautam's hat. As for Surya, it's an ostrich plume, a justified triumph.