The cheering roars boom, blending with the jubilant rhythm of whistles piercing the ears amidst an interval block of a wildly familiar mass moment, constructed with such banality undermining its very own magnificence that when I was left quite baffled, sinking into my seat, trying to keep the debris of hope alive, eyes shut, I couldn’t help but overhear the loud comments of a group of friends passing by and one struck me as absolutely adept, ‘Machan, Erandavathu BodhiDharman da!’. I concede in silence and the ponderings are diverted to 7-aum Arivu where Shruti Hassan plays the genetic engineer, spending months with Surya, trying to woo him, breaking to him the truth he must face followed by a painstaking process of genetic resurrection and a crusade set to the course of the narrative with the powerful lyrics of Pa. Vijay invoking the pride of the land and the gifts of saintly ancestors. There exists a ridiculously casual dismissal of such sciences of genetics and more in Pattas, the film itself being kin to 7-aum Arivu and numerous others (Mass engira Massilaamani, Mersal to state a few).
Why should Pattas even heed genetics? After all, 7-aum Arivu fell almost into that zone but why Pattas? Shakti, nicknamed Pattas is a carefree young boy, a finely jolly fellow in all his attitude and action. This boy whom we never see enter into any serious fight in the movie engages in one with the thugs using the techniques of an ancient Tamil martial art, Adimurai mastered by his long dead father, one of the few veterans of the defence art and the boy does this naturally sans any formal training when overwhelmed by the sudden knowledge of who his real parents are and that one is in terrible danger. Note that he is a boy who, minutes prior this, counters the men threatening to fight him remarking, ‘Unna naan thanni ilaama kullipatti, towel illama thuvati vitruven’ only to flee leaving his foster-father at stake when they come for him.
His Adimurai moves surely constitute something of a ‘medical miracle’, a ‘genetic marvel’ which finds its crude reasoning in that his mother, a fiery Adimurai master herself tutors him throughout the period of gestation and childhood. The art and skills run through his blood; we are told. Hard did I try not to recollect the distinctions between inherited traits and acquired traits and of infantile amnesia before letting go, observing the film make a fool out of myself and sadly of itself. Pattas, in its core, wills to be a film about an indigenous art in the verge of extinction while the mentioned 2011 Surya starrer dealt with an entire nation faced with the same threat. The latter hails Bodhi Dharman, the Tamil monk, excelled in the art of Nokuvarmam, championing natural medicine, an asset in the time of crisis while the former is helmed by Thiraviam championing an ancient Tamil martial art, Adimurai. The invasion foreign forces are the plague to be battled in both these films. It all sounds very intriguing, dedicated to an authentic cause of reviving history, the pride and power of heritage yet Pattas is dully reduced to a revenge drama of no wits and least surprises. Where the film excels in intention, it fails in construction.
Pattas unfolds in a fine note with the imprisonment of a mother who murders a man with her bare hands. She is Kanyakumari, played by a remarkable Sneha bearing the fire of anger, ambition and revenge in her eyes and visage. The next second we are in Bangkok, hearing of a kick-boxing tournament to be launched in Chennai from a supposed to be menacing villain who only faintly registers in our memory. And cut to his academy in Chennai, there are thieves having a load of fun, Shakti and his pal, robbing all his trophies. However abrupt these cuts may seem, they involuntarily do make a point. The lives of these three are strongly and intricately connected and a gentle interest is sparked when the writing ably and with little fuss accommodates them together in this introductory episode via the intercuts and links through which we shall pursue their paths prior they collide with one another. When they do, there is no explosion, no bang.
An exciting spatial dynamic albeit of a reduced emotional depth ensues in the initial confrontations between the mother and her lost son. Fires break out, smoke and gloomy green hues fill the academy when she spots him the first time from her direct opposite. When the film does phenomenal in its build and rendering of Kanyakumari, her temperament and fighter instinct, it takes a silly and long detour in Shakti’s flirtations with Sandhana, the entire gimmick emerging as a laughable and shallow taming of the shrewd. The moments of the film leading up to its man of mass, the root of the tale lack what is demanded of it the most, the vigour, the rousing ability. The tonality of the film shifts drastically post the interval. A light entertainer punctuated with relatively heavier moments of emotion, wrath and heritage is the spirit exuded by the initial half of the film and in what follows as flashback, we witness where the heart of the film lies at and how it flounders in its path leading up to and away from it.
There are real conflicts at play in the chronicle of the past- a variant of sibling rivalry; of an underachieving son’s anguish; of westernisation and it is underwhelming that the film ventures close only to the peripheries of these conflicts, hesitating to enter the ring in the arena. A solid massive moment is when Dhanush adapts the iconic Adimurai posture in the duel, the pose we see in the flag fluttering high in the winds, in the sculpture in their humble traditional training institution. The high doesn’t prolong at the same energising level when the wrecked idol is borne by the wounded man set ablaze, the scene despite being metaphorical of the phoenix and its rise beyond lifetimes playing out as deeply absurd.
It is wondrous how Dhanush is both credible and an immensely enjoyable watch as a young boy in his twenties (besides his sturdy, earnest portrayal of Thiraviam). When Shakti assumes the role and aim of his father, the essence of his own character suffers with no solid roots and the flailing of the character is veiled only by an effective performance by Dhanush, one that he truly owns and nails. Thiraviam voices his dream in the closure of the film as the credits for writing and direction appear, his dream hence can be rightly taken to be that of the maker as well: to ensure that at least the people of the state are aware of their native martial art, Adimurai. This is the true ambition of the film. The revival of a dying art and a culture is not an aspect forced upon the drama of revenge to merely elevate the intrigue value, existing solely for sake of its messaging. It is the other way around.
The film wants to be about Adimurai, the dying art, its resurrection and the despairing question is why isn’t it? Within Pattas lies a great premise, of might, wasted in the film’s reduction of the same to another run of the mill revenge quest- a premise for an extraordinary sports film.
Pattas is no explosive, it isn’t colourful either. The fuse of Pattas is fed with fire that doesn’t travel down its insides as we await eagerly, looking on, excited for that buoyant blast, of the dance of lights and colours in the air and it only lets out teeny sparks before falling miserably out of its brief life, devoid of fire, dull and dazed.