I have often been intrigued by the various theories of evolution, the various Biblical and other references to how the World was created, how human beings came into existence and so on. No I don’t claim to be an expert in this matter, far from it in fact. But the curiosity to know more and more about this subject remains intact. The trailer of Shiv Mohaa‘s Zero was quite captivating I must say, leaving me asking for more. I guess he’s probably someone who is also deeply interested in the subject, enough to go on to make his first film which does talk of this theme in clear terms. Weaving a contemporary slice of life tale interspersed with the concept of evolution, bringing a sharp connection between the two is never going to be an easy task. But when someone attempts to do exactly the same in his very first movie as director, it is quite a surprise indeed.
Zero is a fantasy supernatural film with elements of evolution and even religion (in a not so glaring manner), something that’s pretty unusual for anyone to come up with. It’s also fairly ambitious and quite a challenging task when you realize that the filmmaker is not having the luxury of a huge budget or the presence of popular stars in the film to bank upon. It is in essence a small film made with the spirit of an indie film but with the ambition that is on par with any of the big budget extravaganzas. Shot in the second half of 2014, the film has taken some time to hit the theatres, but in a way the wait has been worth it as it has received the right kind of distribution and marketing support required to push a deserving film. Zero starts off with a voiceover by Gautham Menon as we get to see the beginning of the universe, how Adam and Eve were created and how their wonderful existence in the Garden of Eden is brought to a halt thanks to the original sin. Moving forward to the present, we are now in a world that has turned out to be an emotionless, concrete jungle.
Bala (Ashwin Kakumanu) and Priya (Sshivada) are in love and decide to get married despite Balas’s father (Ravi Raghavendra) not agreeing for the same. Bala is a social worker while Priya is a university topper who is happy being a housewife and taking care of Bala. Bala’s father was not in favour of the wedding partly due to Priya’s inability to bear kids, but mainly because he felt that that her mother’s mental issues (leading to her father abandoning her) might actually rub off on to Priya as well. Bala shrugs it off assuming that there is no logic to his father’s fear and goes on to settle down comfortably in an environment that seems to be the perfect comfort zone for him and Priya. But the happiness doesn’t seem to last too long as Priya starts behaving strangely, shoplifting, abusing, sleepwalking at night and even hearing strange noises. Just as we begin to wonder if Bala’s father’s suspicions were right after all we see Priya getting visions of her mother and communicating with her on a regular basis.
Her mother tempts her with glimpses of a place which looks magical in every way and asks her to stay there with her, even insisting that this was the real world and not the one she appears to live in. Needless to say Priya is confused as to which one is the real world and she continues to suffer in many ways. It takes some time before Bala realizes the intensity of the situation, but is it too late by then? What exactly is happening to Priya? Can Bala do anything to help her and get her out of trouble? Will they able to get back to their own idyllic Garden of Eden? Well the answers for all these and more questions are what we get to understand as the film moves along. The film starts off rather interestingly and Shiv Mohaa makes sure to ensure that there is an element of surprise almost all through the film, especially in the first half. There is a keen sense of helplessness seen in Priya as she does not know whether to be happy with her loving husband or instead listen to her mother and follow her bidding.
The strange situations continue, getting more and bizarre as the tale proceeds. While the 1st half remains highly unpredictable and keeps you totally hooked, the momentum is a little lost as the 2nd half chugs along. Soon we get the Biblical angle thrown in and while it does catch you by surprise with its own spin to the age old Adam & Eve tale, the proceedings slowly turn out to be less surprising. Towards the end it moves into the seemingly conventional way of taking care of the evil force at hand and that’s a bit of a let-down considering that the film had everything going for it till a short while before that stage. Solomon’s (J.D.Chakravarthy) character is introduced to us initially with a lot of promise and intrigue but then goes on to appear strangely unconvincing and whatever he does towards the end of the film reduces the charm to an extent. And it’s also a little strange to see some genuine characters like Bala’s dad and their friendly neighbout (Tulasi) just not featuring after a point.
The CGI and VFX work is at times tacky (the serpent for example) and at times very impressive (the dream world with its tree of life of sorts suspended in the sky). Babu Kumar’s cinematography is impressive, be it in the bright outdoor shots or even in the dark interior portions. At nearly 160 minutes the film is long but thanks to the efforts of director Shiv Mohaa and editor Sudharshan you don’t really feel the duration to be a deterrent. Nivas K.Prasanna scores winners both with the songs and BGM, easily one of the strong points of the film. In particular “Uyire Un Uyirena” (vocals by Anirudh Ravichander and lyrics by Kabilan) and “Veredhuvum Nijame Illai” (vocals by Haricharan Seshadri and lyrics by Madhan Karky) are extremely soulful and leave a major impact. It is pretty clear that Shiv Mohaa has attempted to ask a few questions through the film, not all of it have clear cut answers indeed. Of the supporting cast both Ravi Raghavendra and Tulasi make an impression while J.D.Chakravarthy appears to be the odd man out in the film.
Both Ashwin and Sshivada are more than competent, complimenting each other comfortably. While Ashwin’s portrayal of Bala requires him to be a little restrained and in control for most of the time, Sshivada’s portrayal of Priya requires her to go through a gamut of emotions, from a quiet and simple person she moves on to someone who is confused and in trouble, before turning all fiery. To a large extent Shiv Mohaa’s attempt succeeds thanks to the lead pair, as they come up with a very earnest performance. Zero is a film which is certainly to be appreciated, it has its heart at the right place and attempts to do something that’s not easily seen in Tamil cinema. It may not be outstsanding but it is easily a film that has a few things going right for it, and these few things ensure that the film passes muster.