is proof that Kamalhassan has learnt his lessons well from films like Hey Ram!
. Like those films, it is ambitious and self-indulgent but those qualities are limited to behind-the-screen aspects like make-up and special effects. Onscreen, it has a very massy sensibility, revealed in its flimsy story, frenetic screenplay and overall light tone. It is erratically paced and a tad too long but Kamal's abundant talent, ambition and dedication to his craft pull it through.
The film starts off in the 12th century - in an episode that barely has any connection to the rest of the story - where a devout Vaishnavite Nambi(Kamalhassan) stands up to the King(Napolean), a Shiva devotee, and pays for it with his life. The scene then shifts to Washington D.C in December 2004, where Govindarajan(Kamalhassan), a scientist, goes on the run with a vial holding a deadly biological virus, after stealing it to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The vial and Govind, with an ex-CIA assassin Fletcher(Kamalhassan) behind him, end up in Chidambaram. It ends up inside an idol and he once again goes on the run, this time with a devout Brahmin girl Andal(Asin) in tow, to get the vial back.
The film's USP is ofcourse Kamal appearing in 10 roles - a first in world cinema. Seen purely from a performance perspective, he carries it off with aplomb. His body language, expressions, accents and voice modulation, whether in the "come here" finger-call of the American, the fast walk of the Japanese, the bemused expression of Bush or the Telugu-mixed Tamil spoken by the Telugu cop, are pitch-perfect. The models he's based these characters on have been researched and studied intently and it shows. It is chest-thumping for sure but since its backed by real talent, its easier to accept it. Other actors barely make an impression in what is essentially a one-man show. Asin shows that she has a great knack for comedy once again but her character's idiocy in not understanding the situation as the movie goes on works against her. Kamal favorites like Nagesh, Santhanabharathi, Napoleon and Vaiyapuri show up here too.
Kamal is so amazing in the 9 roles that if he had done these performances without an iota of make-up on, we could've still pinpointed exactly who he was playing. In fact, the make-up ends up being a distraction in many cases. Some faces in particular have too many layers and make his face look stiff, inexpressive and disproportionate to the rest of his body(though the screenplay is designed such that the roles that have the most makeup, like the American killing machine and the Japanese kung-fu expert, don't need to be expressive). Its telling that the best character is Brahma Naidu, one of the few roles with little make-up.
Unfortunately, that USP turns out to be the film's OSP - Only Selling Point. It's difficult to tell a story with 9 characters of equal importance and it shows. The main story, which is thin enough to deserve only 3 or 4 of those characters, veers off in many directions to provide placeholders for the remaining characters and give them adequate screen time. As a result the screenplay suffers since these extraneous characters ofcourse lead to extraneous segments where the movie begins to drag.
The film races along comfortably initially. A good plot with potential, a series of interesting locations, a very lively character in the Telugu cop and anticipation about Kamal's remaining roles ensure that the first half breezes by. The humor quotient is high with some of the jokes, like the wordplays with Rao, worthy of being penned by 'Crazy' Mohan. But the film begins to drag post-intermission as Kamal and Asin are stuck with the idol and the cracks, some of which were present earlier too, begin to show more clearly. The plot begins to spin its wheels; Kamal's 2 new characters add nothing of importance and seem extraneous; Asin's character gets increasingly screechy and irritating; the screenplay takes some unconvincing and cliched turns; and the humor seems forced as the plot gains seriousness.
The film's tone is also uneven as Kamal's serious, topical, message-oriented thoughts seem to be packaged rather uneasily within KSR's commercial, masala-ish screenplay. Apart from the science vs atheism question that is prevalent throughout(it is expressed more pointedly once Kamal, who is scientific-minded and Asin, who is religious, go on the run and start sparring), the movie touches upon chaos theory, the threat of biological weapons and America's short-sightedness. But the film's light tone never allows these to be taken seriously and they are lost amidst the chases, jokes and stunts.
Most of the film's budget was apparently spent on make-up since the special effects are disappointing. The effects in the segment set in the 12th century are particularly bad and the sense of awe that the film is going for is replaced by wonder at the cheesiness of the graphics in a film of this magnitude. Things do get better though as the film proceeds. Scenes involving multiple Kamals sharing the screen are quite convincing with a one-on-one fight between two of them being particularly good. The tsunami brings in special effects on a scale not seen before in Tamil cinema and is impressive considering that.
The average soundtrack isn't rescued by the picturization of the songs. Kallai Mattum... is picturized on a large scale and with the required passion but its effect is minimized by the aforementioned cheesy graphics. Oh Oh Sanam... looks colorful. Mukunda Mukunda... has some clever shadow images accompanying the lines about Lord Vishnu's 10 avathaarams. Mallika Sharawat does her bit(pun unintended) in Kaa Karuppanukkum.... As expected, Ulaga Naayagane... plays during the end credits with scenes of the arduous make-up process. But in keeping with the movie's tone, it also looks rather cheesy with KSR dancing in a group and Kamal's various roles shaking their legs along with the movie's crew.