The cheering roars resonate, blending with the jubilant rhythm of whistles piercing the ears amidst an interval block of a wildly familiar mass moment. Constructed with such banality, it undermines its very own magnificence. 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 shift 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).
Pattas’ Construction Flaws: Intention vs. Execution
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. Adimurai is one of the few veterans of the defense 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 to 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. Both films portray the invasion of foreign forces as the plague to be battled. It sounds intriguing, dedicated to the authentic cause of reviving history, the pride and power of heritage. Yet, Pattas is dully reduced to a revenge drama with no wits and least surprises. While the film excels in intention, it fails in construction.
Pattas’ Premise: Wasted Might and Missed Opportunity for a Sports Film
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. These three lives are strongly and intricately connected, sparking a gentle interest when the writing adeptly and with little fuss accommodates them together in this introductory episode through intercuts and links. We shall pursue their paths before they collide with one another. However, 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.
Shakti’s Journey in Pattas: A Vigorous First Half and Floundering Second
The moments in the film leading up to its central character, the core of the tale, lack the vigor and rousing ability demanded of them the most. The tonality of the film undergoes a drastic shift post the interval. The initial half of the film exudes the spirit of a light entertainer, punctuated with relatively heavier moments of emotion, wrath, and heritage. As the flashback unfolds, we observe where the heart of the film lies and how it flounders in its path, both leading up to and moving 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 westernization, 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 surge of energy doesn’t sustain at the same invigorating level when the wounded man, carrying the ruined idol, sets it ablaze. Despite being metaphorical of the phoenix and its rise beyond lifetimes, the scene unfolds as deeply absurd.
Dhanush’s Performance: Credibility and Enjoyability in Pattas
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 takes on the role and objective of his father, his character loses its essence due to the lack of solid roots, and Dhanush effectively veils the character’s struggles through his performance, one that he genuinely owns and excels in. At the film’s conclusion, Thiraviam articulates his dream as the credits for writing and direction appear. His dream can rightfully be considered the filmmaker’s as well, to ensure that the people of the state are aware of their native martial art. This embodies the film’s true ambition.
The revival of a dying art and culture is not a facet imposed on the revenge drama to merely heighten its intrigue value. Instead, it exists for the sake of its messaging, illustrating the reverse relationship. The film wants to be about Adimurai, the dying art, its resurrection, and the despairing question is why isn’t