An inconsistent ‘zombie’ film with excessive melodrama

From the director of Naaigal Jaakirathai comes Miruthan , or well, Peigal Jaakirathai . They are not really peigal , or for that matter zombies, as was mentioned during the promotions, but simply “patients”, as doctor Renu (Lakshmi Menon) puts it. You see, these are not undead people, like in zombie films, but simply citizens of Ooty, and later, Coimbatore, who have been infected by some sort of toxic chemical waste, which causes the amplification of the ‘animal instincts in man’ that “exist here”, says a doctor, pointing at the back of his skull. If they were actually zombies, landing headshots would be a, er, no-brainer, and a guilt-free exercise, but as they’re just infected people, Renu, who in an earlier scene is shown undertaking the Hippocratic Oath, gets furious when traffic policeman Karthik (Jayam Ravi) guns them down, like balloons at a beach. Her ethics hold until she’s at the receiving end of an attack, when she implores Karthik to shoot a patient down. I’m sorry, but was that the Hippocratic Oath, or the hypocritical oath?

Renu, of course, isn’t the only woman Karthik has to protect. He is a Tamil hero, and Miruthan is Kollywood’s take on zombie films. So, he also has to ensure the safety of his little sister, Vidya, who, truth be told, looks more like his daughter. In a better film, she’d probably play his daughter, and his love for Renu would be better established than just by showing a photo of her in his wallet. There’s something sinister—perhaps more so than zombies—about a man who meets a strange, attractive girl, and immediately decides that he’s in love and keeps her photo in his wallet. Also, in a better film, the illness affecting the residents of Ooty and Coimbatore would be better explained; their symptoms better understood. I wasn’t even sure if the disease had a name. I never really understood what the incubation period of the infection is. Some people get bitten and seem to immediately turn into a blood-lusting feral creature, with the eyes going white and the skin turning scabby. Some others, like a doctor, for example, find their bodies not really deteriorating for hours.

You know how zombies function. You know they can’t run and simply totter about; you know their main mode of attack is to bite; you know that the way to destroy them is to destroy their brain… but with the patients in Miruthan , you aren’t really sure. They seem to punch and kick. They seem to be able to sprint. They make extraordinary leaps. Some even seem to suddenly burst with super-human power, as if possessed by a demon. In that sense, you have to wonder if Miruthan is just your average ghost movie pretending to be something far fancier. It definitely has the sort of jokes you’d expect in Aranmanai -esque films. In one scene, a rather unfunny politician stares at hundreds of infected people, and says, “Ennama ipdi panringale ma”. In another, a man is shown eating Lays during a tense scene, and explains, “Laysaa pasichidhu, adhaan Lays.” It suddenly made me realise that there are things far worse than a zombie bite. Like that joke.

Nevertheless, I quite liked some of the action set-pieces, especially the one with Karthik driving a tempo, with dozens of infected people clinging to it à la the famous Fevicol ad. I wondered if Shakti Soundar Rajan would have taken the easy way out and not bothered with applying ‘zombie’ make-up on all of them, but I couldn’t quite spot any aberrations. The real aberration in Miruthan is the lack of consistency in treatment. In some scenes, like when an infected person clings to Renu from outside a car, the film treats the disease light-heartedly. In some others, like in that climactic song, the mood of whose picturisation was a bit reminiscent of I ’s ‘Ennodu Nee Irundhaal’, the tragedy of the whole situation is severely milked. You don’t quite care deeply for Kathik’s love story; so, all the melodrama isn’t really affecting.

At 106 minutes, there’s time for such love tracks, but there isn’t enough to do any justice to the science of the illness. The infected, for some reason, are allergic to water; though you’re shown some scientists who somehow seem to know how to create a vaccine overnight with limited medical supplies for this exotic disease, you’re not even given half-baked mumbo jumbo for why the infected are repelled by water. I only wish they’d treated the whole film either as a serious thriller, or tried to have a lot of fun. Like the scene in which a politician with clout makes it out of the town, despite police standing guard. That’s native, organic humour, but there isn’t a lot of that in Miruthan, which suffers from the same malady that afflicts many bad Tamil films: needless, forced melodrama, and a distinct lack of subtlety. I think it’s safe to say that we still don’t have our first zombie film.

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