In an industry (Tamil) where the big star film is highly formulaic right from its inception to execution, director Vikram K Kumar and producer-star Suriya need to be commended for trying their hand at a genre that is pretty uncommon to Tamil cinema, the sci-fi thriller. Especially so for Suriya – who bit the dust in similar ventures with 7Aum Arivu (2011) and Maattrraan (2012). 24 works much, much better than the earlier two attempts but in catering to everyone from 6-60, it does end up focussing more on the kiddies. It, therefore, comes across as silly in places even as it provides a couple of interesting and clever plot twists set around the idea of ruling the world through conquering time.
24 sees Suriya, always looking to play varied characters, in 3 avatars. The first being scientist Sethuraman, who in 1990 invents a watch through which one can manipulate time. The second is his evil elder twin by 3 minutes, Athreya, who wants the watch to conquer the world and for which he kills Sethu and his wife, Priya (Nithya Menen, pretty but wasted), but becomes a paraplegic lying in a coma for 26 years. And finally in the present, he plays Mani, Sethu’s son who survives after his parents are murdered and is brought up by foster mother Sathyabama (Saranya Ponvannan), becoming a watch mechanic. Needless to say, he responds with three meticulously efficient acts, even having some fun as the evil Athreya waking up after over two decades, but that extra spark elevating the performance(s) to greater heights is missing. Sure, he works extremely hard on his physical appearance, body language and voice modulation for each character, but the performances are starting to come across as being too perfectly studied and too clinically correct. And for the first time, I felt his age is now showing on screen as he is unconvincing physically as the 26 year old Mani.
While the central track around the watch and Athreya’s efforts to get it are engrossing enough and reasonably cleverly plotted, 24 does lapse occasionally into becoming totally ludicrous and corny, logic be damned. One wonders how Athreya knows what happens in the past and not the others whenever Mani uses the watch. This happens with the cheque scene as well as when he’s sent back to 1990. The overall story is too simplistic and we are expected to accept Sethu and Athreya’s estrangement without delving into what happened between the brothers. We are simply told – Sethu is good and Athreya, having shades of the Joker, is bad. Perhaps understanding Athreya’s character better would not only have lifted him but also the film a notch or two. Still, the interval point is a high and so is the big twist following it.
But the film’s biggest flaw is the romantic track between Mani and Sathya (Samantha Ruth Prabhu), which is weakly handled. While Vikram K Kumar sticks to the ‘time watch’ being the star in these sequences as well, thereby integrating it really well into the script, the romantic scenes are self-consciously cute and repetitive and lose their novelty after the first couple of times and what’s more, end up slowing down the pace of the film terribly, even disengaging you. Even the “I’m a watch mechanic” line is fun to begin with but starts to pall as it is forced down your throat ever so often. It also doesn’t help that South Indian mainstream cinema treats its heroines as being particularly stupid and empty headed and Samantha’s character here is no exception. This, added with AR Rahman’s highly disappointing musical score (both songs and background), causes the film to drag for long stretches of the second half while the none too innovative song picturizations do nothing other than bring the narrative flow to a grinding halt.
With the film centered around Suriya’s characters, the supporting cast has precious little to do but seasoned actors like Girish Karnad, Mohan V Raman and Ajay go through the motions efficiently enough. Special mention must be made of Saranya and Suriya sharing an easy mother-son rapport that lifts their scenes together.
On the technical side, the film is mounted well enough and is no doubt good looking (camerawork by S Tirru and by Kiran Deohans), while the VFX and make-up, especially Athreya’s, are also good by Tamil film standards. The characters are well-styled and a pat on the back must go to costumers Darshan Jalan and Isha Ahluwalia here. The editing, however, is uneven and sluggish in places and too many scenes appear longer than needed thereby making one feel the length (164 minutes) of the film. Some of the dialogue in English, especially Athreya’s “I have come for my watch!”, end up being unintentionally funny.
All in all, 24 marks a good comeback for Suriya after the disappointments of Anjaan (2014) and Massu Engira Masilamani (2015) and has its enjoyable moments as it aspires to be a game changer within Tamil mainstream cinema. The pity is that it succeeds only partially.
Tamil, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Color