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This ‘dam' does not hold water

S. Anandan
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The Mullaperiyar connect is hard to find in this mishmash

For all its build-up and the ruckus over its perceived allusion to the contentious Mullaperiyar dam, Dam999 , directed by Sohan Roy, is insipid, pedestrian fare.

Released across the country, barring Tamil Nadu, where it was banned following protests, the film is far from an intrepid portrayal of the groundswell of pent-up human emotions that it was touted to be. This dam, for one, does not hold water.

Contrary to claims of depicting an epic-scale saga of human predicament — a Mahabharata-like grand narrative straddling the real and the spiritual world encompassing everything from “Navarasa” and Vedic mathematics to esoteric sciences, astrology, Ayurveda, and contemporary politics — the film makes a mishmash of everything, offering, at best, a didactic plea for the need to be thoroughly irrational, conformist, and superstitious.

It holds the singular distinction of enthroning “horoscope” as the arch-villain-turned-protagonist dictating the destiny of the film's characters and takes on farcical dimensions with two lovers in the movie heeding to horoscope's command, naively accepting it as a plausible cause for their never-to-be-consummated love.

Loosely knit postcard-like images do not make a movie. It required a well-orchestrated pre-launch hype and allusions to something sensational to rake in the moolah, which has been commendably executed by its makers.

In fact, the film does not have anything to write home about. The debutant director seems to have bitten more than he could chew, which has made the movie a sardonic parade of out-of-place motifs, plots, and characters, while what he ostensibly sought to dish up was a certain high-serious tone and effect. The central characters are mariners aboard a huge oil tanker, which is the locale for a good part of the film, but it would not have been any different had they been in any other profession.

A foreign captain married to a native woman and his Indian shipmate awaiting divorce from his foreign-journalist wife visit the Indian's mentor, an Ayurveda practitioner and astrologer, at a certain point in the movie, where it starts harping on the virtues of Indian systems and practices, making Ayurveda look like quackery and astrology, mere soothsaying.

Mushy sequences

Oodles of mushy sequences involving two old-time sweethearts and jarring, often ridiculous, music and songs help it set the bar really low. In scenes in which the music is meant to evoke pathos or optimism, it unintentionally stirs up humour and parody.

The performance of the movie's second-rung actors, too, leaves a lot to be desired. Finally, for a movie offering too little by way of idiomatic cinema, assuming it to have any connect with Mullaperiyar will be comical if not preposterous. There is talk, in the movie, of a bad Mayor building — maybe overnight, as the film sends a sane sense of time and space for a toss — a new dam as the existing one is said to be over a century old.

The dam sequence appears at the end, leading to a placid collapse, with the scenes showing the destruction appearing superbly amateurish. Apart from a few shots presenting political protests against the new dam, party discussions, and a stray, oblique reference to a 999-year-old agreement, the film falls way short of having anything of substance.


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