Dam999 has been in the news for a while now, for various reasons. The director and writer, Sohan Roy, is an ex Marine Engineer, who based the movie on his own short documentary, Dams - The Lethal Water Bombs.
The motivating force behind both these works is the 1975 Banqiao Dam incident in China, in which 2,50,000 people lost their lives. The director could not ignore the possibility of a similar occurrence in his home state, in which the archaic Mullaperiyar Dam is still functional.
To begin with, Dam999 does not get into the details of the 999-year-old lease in which Tamil Nadu controls the dam that is in Kerala. However, the number "9" plays a significant role in the movie, beginning with the navarasa, or the 9 human emotions. (For the amateur - a rasa or emotion is created by a bhava or state of mind, represented symbolically in Indian art and literature, to inspire the equivalent reaction from the audience).
The movie revolves around 9 characters, each representing one rasa. Old friends Captain Frederick/Freddie Brown (Joshua Fredric Smith) and Vinay Shankar (Vinay Rai), both marine engineers, return to their small home-town in Kerala to settle down for good. Freddie is married, and Vinay has a son, and is estranged from his journalist wife, Sandra (Linda Arsenio).
Vinay rekindles his old romance with Meera (Vimala Raman), a childhood friend who assists his father, Shankaran (Rajit Kapoor), a vaid, or medicine-man. Freddie is mostly upset about his invalid sister Maria (Jaala Pickering), who is married to Durai (Ashish Vidyarthi), the local politician and goon.
Freddie and Maria's father built the dam in the region. When Maria's father was shot dead, Durai seized the opportunity to become a leader, and has been rising on a wave of sympathy ever since.
As far as stories go, this one is fairly simple, and you're constantly reminded of the impending disaster that is bound to change lives forever. The problem, however, lies with a few over-the-top sequences, and the lacklustre performances of the actors.
Without getting into details, some scenes in the movie are unintentionally funny, such as the "operation" to rescue Maria from her cruel husband (largely inspired by too many FBI and SWAT movies), and the "Durai and the cobra" scenes.
All the actors, except Rajit Kapoor and Ashish Vidyarthi (although they both overact a bit), are singularly dreadful. Now this may be attributed to their discomfort with the language, English, and that may be a valid justification. Why did Mr. Roy not make a balanced bi-lingual movie instead, where the love triangle, romance, mother-child relationship, alternative healing methods and other such "Indian" themes would have made more sense? The dam, or the 10th character, is more convincing.
The extra attention paid to Ayurvedic healing seems like a deliberate attempt to emphasise the importance of the ancient science and how revered it still is in most parts of the country. Nevertheless, did the vaid have to be a psychic, too?
Since this is his first movie, the serious Sohan Roy crammed every aspect of Indian beliefs and values that he could think of, or so it seems.
The 2D-to-3D conversion, to enhance the look and feel of the various incidents, is excellent in parts, but too obvious and shoddy in certain sequences (if you find that you can do away with the coloured glasses, you know that the conversion is substandard).
The movie begins with just 2 credits in its title sequence - director and music director - and a special note thanking A R Rahman. However, if you are expecting great music, then leave your ears at home. The Hindi songs are more than out-of-place in a movie where no Hindi is spoken at all, and the rest of the music is below average.
Despite the actors and the director messing up a movie that could have become a cult of its own, you will walk out of the theatre with the issue still playing on your mind. Sohan Roy highlights the corruption of local leaders and the helplessness of residents, both responsible for the slow destruction of this country. It is not enough to lament over the issue - the movie seems to say - do something about it!