Ordinarily, there wouldn't be much to write about 7 Aum Arivu, the latest Surya starrer by Murugadoss (of Ghajini fame): it's a shoddy and thoroughly mediocre masala movie, a promising first twenty minutes -- set in ancient India and China, and tracking the legends surrounding the monk Bodhidharman's founding of the Shao Lin order (now world famous for its Kung Fu martial arts) -- undone by the routine beat 'em up that follows, as the film tracks Bodhidharman's 21st century descendant through his efforts to foil a Chinese bio-terror plot targeting India. Unfortunately, that isn't all there is to it. 7 Aum Arivu, produced by the son of DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi (Stalin), is also an unwitting showcase for the Dravidian movement's degeneration; or rather, of the movement's reduction to its most problematic aspects, and to empty gestures that try to mask its contemporary hollowness with bombast.
7 Aum Arivu isn't just marred by its naked anti-Chinese jingoism (a jingoism that testifies to nothing so much as to a pervasive feeling of inferiority on the part of many in India's bourgeoisie with respect to its gigantic, and economically far more successful, neighbor; as well as to a clandestine envy of the authoritarianism that characterizes the People's Republic); it goes further, and tries to graft this xenophobia onto the gestures of the Dravidian movement, perhaps trying to update the latter even as the politicians and ideologies clamoring about it have long since emptied it of almost everything other than ethnic chauvinism. Thus, in the finest fascist traditions, Tamil identity in this film is about Tamil blood, about the genes as it were -- so much so that Bodhidharman's contemporary descendant doesn't need to learn anything, undergo any training, in order to become like his super-powered ancestor. He simply needs to be made aware of his (biological) heritage (more accurately, a cultural heritage that is simply a biological inheritance); that awareness, married to modern scientific wizardry, suffices to make him a new Bodhidharman. This isn't mere symbolism: time and again, characters in the film (most notably the young scientist played by Shruti Haasan) announce it too. The message is dinned into our heads: it is blood that matters, and "our" inheritance has been stolen by others, and used against us (it is typical of this film's dimwitted ethos that it never pauses to reflect on why Bodhidharman himself taught his learning to the inhabitants of a Chinese village; if nothing else, the ancestor seems to have been far less provincial than his contemporary urban descendant). History is nothing more than ethnic chauvinism -- "we" were the first, the best, the most, and some combination of villainy and our own indifference conspires to keep us in chains. It's a fairy story, and even as tales go, a rather stale and not especially insightful tale.
Murugadoss doesn't stop with the rather standard "supremacist" approach common to revivalists and xenophobes the world over. In fits and starts, his script remembers that it needs to be chauvinistic in an especially Dravidian way, and thus we are treated to the specter of Shruti Haasan being mocked by senior professors for speaking in Tamil (a scene so ludicrous and incongruous given the context, it verges on spoof, of the film closing with Surya's character chiding Hinduism for replacing the scientific/rationalist bases of Indian culture with ritual and cult; the true god of Reason obscured by false idols, as it were. This much is standard, lifted from the texts of Periyar and others -- but whatever one thought of Periyar's ideology, it found expression in a context of resistance and revolt (against Brahminical dominance; the social "backwardness" of various castes; and the Sanskritization that implicitly or explicitly held Tamil culture inferior). Today, after four decades of rule by this or that (more or less) Dravidian party in Tamil Nadu, and a movement that has been rather successful in many of its cultural aims (although not at all in Periyar's anti-Hinduism), Murugadoss' gestures seem lazy and stale, and directed at soft targets.
I might have been more forgiving of these gestures if they were more sincere -- but they are utterly cynical. 7 Aum Arivu is a film where Surya deploys blond highlights for much of the film; just about every song is saturated in the imagery and aesthetics of American music videos (Harris Jayaraj's music is also very far from the rootedness of Ilaiyaraja or Rahman at their Tamil best; in fact it is miles from even the popular Tamil music feel of Jayaraj's own Samurai, and is utterly bland, generic, and forgettable); and then there's Shruti Haasan, whose Tamil accent sounds off even to my non-Tamil ear, and whose Bollywoody, manipulated appearance brings to mind the long tradition of Tamil films casting light-skinned North Indian women as heroines. When Shruti Haasan mouths Tamil nationalist dialogs, I didn't even get to taking offense -- I laughed, and I laughed.