A mainstream suspense movie, Maayavan grapples with questions of the soul – and immortality
Tamil cinema has come a long way, and is slowly embracing sci-fi themes with movies like Endhiran (Robot) and Indru Netru Naalai (Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow) with varying degrees of success.
Another stream in this development is that the more mainstream non-scifi movies using science fiction devices and themes for its plots. One such movie is Maayavan (Wizard) directed by CV Kumar. Kumar was the producer for many critically acclaimed Tamil films such as Pizza, and Maayavan was his first directorial venture.
A police inspector Kumaran with a troubled past finds himself in the most mysterious case the police has ever encountered. Multiple killings have occurred throughout the city, each by a different killers and different victims, but the killers all share something in common — their behaviour had changed radically in the last few days before they killed their victim.
How will Kumaran confront his past? What is the true nature of these copycat killings? Who is their mastermind?
The answers to these questions may be shocking.
The culprit is…
• Spoiler alert! Skip to next section to avoid •
The answer comes as a complete shock to Kumaran. The culprit turns out to be a scientist from the Indian Institute of Neurosciences, Pramod, who was working on transferring a person’s consciousness from one body to another.
This was achieved by means of a silica gel consisting of millions of nano-transmitters injected into the host person. When a device is activated, the nano-transmitters embed the neurons of the host with the memories and experiences of another person – essentially transferring consciousness from one person to another.
Pramod had transferred his own consciousness to another innocent person and committed the murder, and after either killing the host body or getting it killed, jumps to a new host body. This had happened several times, with victims ranging from rival scientists, the wife of the host person, and an actress Pramod had found annoying.
A bird jumping nests, a soul jumping bodies
The film explains the transmigration of consciousness using the Tamil expression koodu vittu koodu paayum – a bird leaping from one nest to another. The expression refers to ancient saints who were supposedly able to transmigrate their souls from one body to another.
The question that the film raises is about the ethics involved in such research. The film is somewhat conservative and skeptical about modern research that aims to make humans immortal, and it’s personified in the villain, an evil genius who aims to live for a thousand years.
Something else I liked about the movie is that the movie develops it’s main characters really well. Being a mystery and action film, this really was quite unexpected. It’s more common to have a generic over-powerful hero, especially in Tamil cinema.
The protagonist Kumaran has a dark past when he had jumped in a well to save his drowning sister – and failed. This left him with deep seated issues that resurface when he goes on an investigation. It’s only when he is asked to get a go ahead from a psychiatrist that we learn that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Though its not central to the story, the movie deals with mental health issues realistically.
The psychiatrist Aadhirai is a steadfast and nosy person, but she simply does what she must to take care of people with mental health issues. Again, I would have expected an action movie with a generic bland heroine, but Aadhirai is firm and stands up to the protagonist and his refusal to confront his trauma. While I do think she should have had more of a role in the main plot of catching the criminal, such depth in characters is rare in action films.
A generic climax and a bland villain prevented Maayavan from becoming the spectacle that it could have been. While it’s not a fair comparison, Maayavan does not work in the sci-fi realm as much as Indru Netru Naalai does (which I’ll review some day as well).
Still, despite it’s flaws, it’s a great leap for Indian cinema and especially suspense movies. Movies like these are sign that directors are willing to take more risks than before.