7 Aum Arivu row: Debate rages over Bodhi Dharma’s identity

Suriya in 7aum Arivu.

Deccan Chronicle, November 9, 2011
* By KAVITHA MURALIDHARAN

Director A.R. Murugadoss promised that his film 7aum Arivu would make Tamils proud, but, sadly, the film has only left Tamils at loggerheads.

Among numerous debates that the movie has sparked is the one on the portrayal of Bodhi Dharma. The first 20 minutes of the film is about the founder of Zen Buddhism. According to legends, he was a descendant of the Pallava dynasty near Kancheepuram and had travelled to China to propagate Zen Buddhism.

Questions about whether Bodhi Dharma did exist in history and whether he was a Tamil as portrayed in the film is exercising the minds of intelligentsia in Tamil Nadu.

“There is no material evidence that Bodhi Dharma had lived, but it is a very believable legend,” says Mr S. Theodore Baskaran, film historian and writer.

“There is no material evidence basically because Bodhi Dharma had not documented anything like other monks did,” says Bikku Bodhi Bala, professor of Pali and Buddhist studies at the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, Madurai.

“About seven monks travelled from Tamil Nadu to China between the 2nd and 13th centuries A.D. Bodhi Dharma was among them. He became famous because he resurrected after being killed in China. He returned to India and died here,” says Bala.

The film, however, does not say so. The Buddhist monk is also upset that Bodhi Dharma has been portrayed as a man with ‘medicinal knowledge and adept at martial arts’.

“His main intention was to propagate Buddhism. In our monastic life, we have been told he taught martial arts but that was only as a defense. We have never known about his medical knowledge.”

The film places greater importance on Bodhi Dharma being a Tamil and not on his contribution to Buddhism, which has not gone down well with the critics.

Says Mr Stalin Rajangam, a researcher in Tamil Buddhism, “It is a fact that he was a Tamil. But he was known more as a Buddhist monk. The film fails to take note of his contribution to Buddhism.

It should have ideally discussed the relationship between Tamil society and Buddhism.”
Murugadoss was unavailable for comments.

Films have scant regard for history: Theodore Baskaran

The much-hyped 7aum Arivu would join the long list of historical films in Tamil that had gone awry in their depiction of history. “Tamil films have scant regard for history. Almost always, they confuse between history and folklore,” says film historian Theodore Baskaran.

Celebrated historical movies like Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Parthiban Kanavu have been unfaithful to history. “Kattabomman was not even a king. His arsenal had just about three to four guns.

All this is well-documented, but the film showed just the opposite,” says Mr Baskaran. The crew of Parthiban Kanavu — a film on the Pallava dynasty — did not even visit Mahabalipuram ruled by the Pallavas.

Mr Baskaran says the films are confused about locales and costumes. “In Thillana Mohanambal, a Tamil king would be seen wearing a Marathi costume. The film-makers completely neglect the aspects of dress, jewels and weapons that are depicted in our sculptures. They do not even do basic research.”

He also accuses the film-makers of not following the ‘grammar and rules of historical films’. “In historical films, it is never a norm to introduce characters by their names. But it happened in Kappalottiya Thamizhan. That was because you cannot tell the audiences who the character is, visually.”

Moviegoers have ‘reservations’

K. Karthikeyan

Makers of the big-ticket movie7aum Arivu might have successfully used the Tamil card with a few emotion packed dialogues to woo the audience, but they appear to have stoked a controversy by subtly maligning social justice.

In a particular sequence, Sruthi Haasan, who plays one of the lead roles in the movie, while extolling the significance of Tamil language and culture, equates reservation (in education) with corruption to drive home the point that Indian students were discouraged domestically and hence they pursue research overseas.

The dialogues criticising reservation may not go down too well with votaries of affirmative action like reservation in education and jobs.

The movie will not be a first in this direction, with director Sankar’s Gentleman and controversialOrey Oru Gramathiley having already broached the subject.

PDK president ‘Kolathur’ Mani questioned the controversial utterances about reservation and references in the movie about the medicinal value of turmeric and the use of cow dung in Tamil households in the past.

Mani argues; “The movie maligns reservation in a scene shot at IIT-Madras where quota is not followed properly. The movie only attempts to propagate retrograde ideas by encouraging the use of cow dung, which after scientific studies, had been found to be spreading rheumatic fever.”

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