Who is the real villain?

I watched Uttama Villain a week after its release, successfully resisting the urge to read reviews and analyses. I came out of the theatre feeling disappointed, but what was even more disappointing was the positive buzz I saw everywhere. Is that all it takes? Some references to the star’s personal life and career, scenes and words serving as triggers for us to reminisce older movies, and a cast we have come to like. Oh look! Punnagai Mannan! Aalavandhan! Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal! (Side note: why doesn’t anyone take up issue with the relentless stereotyping of a Rich Telugu Family With Spoilt Daughter in Tamil movies?) Oh is that his relationship with….? Oh is this producer actually that person…? Oh there’s a line talking about his obsession with perfection. Oh here’s another reference to the different phases of his career. While playing this matching game is fun, it does not elevate the experience that the movie hopes to offer.

The biggest problem I had was buying the premise of the movie within the movie. If Margadarisi represents KB, the fact that he would make a historical-folk fiction-comedy-drama is itself somewhat puzzling. (Also I felt like KB was troubled by the strain this acting stint put on him.) Maybe this story was chosen to tell us KH learnt Theyyam (yet another contribution KH has made to ancient and dying arts as well as Tamil cinema), maybe it was a shot at publicity for a Villu Paatu exponent, maybe it was a chance to show us KH’s command over his mother tongue and his intelligent word play, maybe it was to show us the difference between a man’s ordinary life and the immortality he could achieve through other means. I could not find any other significance for this story having been chosen; these sequences in UV were the weakest for me.

Pooja Kumar’s screen presence and dialogue delivery did not work for me. I found her artificial, and that scene where she bites off Nasser’s ear is easily one of the worst scenes in the movie. Not only does she bite off his ear, her face registers several different expressions (none of which can be deciphered), and she then proceeds to tuck his ear into the folds of her dress (while Nasser stands and speaks more lines – wait, didn’t he just lose an ear?). It was disgusting, and if humour was intended, the joke was lost on me. I do think she was projected better in other parts of the movie, as the heroine (in spite of playing into a dumb-glamour-doll stereotype). Nasser as the king came across as a comedian in a street play rather than a king. (Quick note: I felt that Narasimhan/Nasser dying in the climax of Iraniyan Nadagam was a conceit that was hurriedly executed. As I type this, I understand there will be numerous explanations for this, such as how KH is an atheist, and he cleverly incorporated his own beliefs into the movie within the movie to arrive at the end he desired). The tacky direction in Uttaman’s portions were a huge let down. Take for instance the scene where KH floats on the river, and wonders if he is in heaven. The camera cuts to shots of a peacock, deer and rabbits frolicking about. The colour composition of these shots is so odd that it made me wonder if they took some footage off Discovery Channel (!). While this may be considered a minor gripe, it really pulls me out of the movie. I found myself thinking these portions did not do the soundtrack justice. The album which was rich, layered, lyrical, dense, meaningful, and poetic, ended up being trivialized in the movie.

In Uttama Villain the movie, Andrea plays a doctor (does your doctor look like that?). I kept waiting for Andrea to have some impact, but she never did. She might have been a better choice for the role played by Parvathy Menon (almost lost in all that chaos), because can you not imagine Andrea being the perfect person to utter the word “Whatever”? Urvasi’s character was again handled in an insensitive manner, using her as bait for stale housewife jokes, making fun of her weight and her tendency to overreact (though going by the audience reaction, this kind of humour has numerous takers). [I was reminded of the advertisement we all see during the interval, the one where Vivek advises Tamil Nadu about the benefits of rain water harvesting. The target audience for that advertisement consists of mothers and housewives (i.e.,thaaimargaLe, illathu-arasigaLe), and in one line, he almost chastises women for not using stone grinders anymore – he says, now that you women do not use your ammi-kal etc., you leave them outside your home and rain water collects in them, causing mosquitoes to breed, leading to dengue. Maybe women who ask for mixies and grinders are being judged by the rest of the population.]

A as always has some insight too (apart from everything already written above). She was disturbed by the business of the letter – she just wasn’t convinced. (After all, A is the one who wondered if Ajith formally adopted the little girl in Yennai Arindhaal, for him to travel the country with her.) She says, Yamini’s letter said she was pregnant and the producer-father in law asked her to abort the baby. Manoranjan’s letter mentioned that he would have to get her pregnant in order to make the lie he said truth. Manorajan was also shown saying he married Urvasi so as to save his career, while in his letter to Yamini he tells her he will leave everything to have a life with her. To A, it seems like a case of doctoring the letter to impress Manonmani. If Chokku threatened Yamini, why would Yamini give him the letter to pass on to Manoranjan? (Though I explained this away by saying Chokku intercepted the letter by other means, probably by asking the postman to deliver to him personally all letters addressed to Manoranjan).

Finally though, what I want to say is this: yes this movie made us all think, it is “meta”, it is almost autobiographical, and it does manage to bring up something new for us to discuss. Maybe Uttama Villain makes me react because I had higher expectations. And the most important question we had: Why did Pooja Kumar utter “Ya Allah!”? Please contact me (at the earliest) if you know the answer to this. We will both be grateful to you.

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