Friday, 1 April 2011


2011 by Santhosh Sivan

Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India and arrived in North Kerala in 1498. When he came back in 1502 he had more plans than trade. He massacres the pilgrims aboard a ship coming back from Mecca. Kothuvaal, a local hero fights him but is killed too. Kelu, the young boy of Kothuvaal saves his life and meets Vavvali and are bought up as brothers by his mother. Kelu makes a Urumi (a two edged, long flexible sword, a traditional weapon in South Indian martial art) plated with the gold that he collected from the dead bodies of the pilgrims. He awaits the coming back of Gama to take his revenge. Gama is coming back to Kerala after 22 years. Kelu and Vavvali saves Bala, the princess of Chirackal palace (a prominent local chieftain). Chirackal king is against the invading Europeans, plundering the wealth of his native land, but his minister and son, and so do many other chieftains, supports Gama. King ask Kelu to save the life of a prince from the Arackal palace, who will be hanged by Gama. During this mission, Kelu meets Ayesha, the princess of Arakkal who is also ready to fight Gama. The three make a daring team, weaving their plans amidst the local politics between chieftains, and fight Gama and his son. In the final battle, Kelu gets really close to killing Gama, seriourly injuring him, but is shot down right before. (Some of my friends think Gama is killed at the end, while I thought Kelu was shot even before he could make that final blow)

That makes an excellent story, a mix of reality and fantasy, for an excellent period movie. But Mr. Sivan thought differently and the movie is told from the present. Two friends, in need of money, have to sell their ancestral forest land to a multi national mining company, just for making huge profits. But a school for the tribals in the region run by an NGO and the tribals themselves oppose this project as that will harm their lives as well as the ecology. Some tribal activists kidnaps the friends and explain them the story behind the region. That is how the main story, ie the revenge of Kelu - a boy who wanted to kill Vasco da Gama, of the movie unfolds. Realising the need to preserve the nature and its aboriginals and how hard the ancestors had fought for the same, the young friends decides against selling their land.

Both these could have been two different movies. Mr. Sivan, I think , wanted to pass this all important message to the Indian affluents, who are turning more western than the west, forgetting our own past, heritage, our natural wealths, causing lot of harm for the aboriginals of India and our nature in the name of development. The message is quite clear and I hope many might take a note of the same. But for me, Urumi as a period movie would have been better without this story of the present. For sure, it would have reduced its length.

Having said that, I must confess that Mr. Sivan has joined both these stories in a nice way, two ways actually

- He have used the same faces in both the past and the present, giving freedom to the viewer to interpret these modern guys as reincarnations of the historical characters.
- He have also completed the unfinished love story between Kelu and Ayesha, in the present. This too is open to interpretation especially because the modern character of Ayesha is described as somebody with mental problems. It is impossible for a modern young guy to love her. But the final scene where the modern day Ayesha unfurls the Urumi, the same one used by Kelu in the 16th C, there is a spark in her eyes which could be interpreted as if .....

The main story, I would say, is brilliant in some scenes, very good in many scenes and mediocre in a few scenes. Some of the scenes with Chirakkal King, his minister, Kelu and Vavvali, some between Kelu and Ayesha and some between Vavvali and Bala are all excellent not just in the way they are shot but also because of the strength and beauty of the dialogues. Especially in the first half of the movie, the script has taken every care to ensure the scenes are sleek and to the point and are well shot too. But in the second half, may be this extra vigil is not always there and it felt like movie would do better with some editing. Even the dialogues tend to be ordinary. The settings and the ambience are all excellent. However the excellence is marred by some completely unwanted songs. No doubt, the songs are picturised beautifully, but they do break the pace of the movie and felt like intrusions in story telling. Except for the very first song and a small interlude when Vavvali dances his heart out, I thought Urumi would have been a more sleek period film without the songs. And finally the final war itself, as always in Indian cinema, is mediocre.

Tahaan was the last Santhosh Sivan movie I saw and hence my expectations were very high, may be. He of course have done a great job. Some song sequences, the first fight scene were Kelu and Vavvali saves Bala, the fight between Vavvali and Gama's son are all brilliant, I would say. Even during the final war, there are shots which are quite poetic. But Mr. Sivan, I am afraid, could not be consistent with this brilliance through out the movie, both as the director and the cinematographer. The song sequence between Kelu and Ayesha and some shots during the final war were all poetic camera work, may I say. But there are also scenes, were I doubted, if these are from Santosh Sivan at all, some indoor scenes to be more precise. There are more than a few shots where the white's are overtly over exposed. I dont know if this movie was shot on film. The theatre I watched, which was using Satellite projection, may be, was having some problems, may be.

There are also few other things that I would like to point out. The script make sure that there are no unwanted references to any religions in Kerala, which was a highlight of Keralan society in the medieval centuries. Caste played a big role, but not the religion. It is after decades that Indian cinema shows a hindu in love with a muslim girl and a muslim in love with a hindu girl, without any mention about their religious differences at all. It also depicts incidents of Hindu rulers raping Muslim women and young girls. For all, this I have to congratulate Mr. Sivan and Mr. Shankar Ramakrishnan. But still, Ayesha who was portrayed like a lioness, ends up like nothing in the movie. A kind of incompleteness was felt with her character there.  I also like to point out something, the use of the singing couple - Pulluvan paattu - in front of the Chirackal palace, as an excellent idea, well executed, to bring out that old world feeling.

The movie would do great for Jagathy Sreekumar (the minister), Prabhu Deva (Vavvali), Genelia (Ayesha), Prathviraj (Kelu) and Nithya Menon (Bala). Jagathy after long has got a role of substance and he was brilliant, the best actor from the whole movie. Prabhu Deva, I doubt, if he will ever get a role of same stature, but he has taken this opportunity with atmost sincerity and excelled as Vavvali. The only small song, which I thought fit into the mood of the movie, which falls in the second half, he dances his heart out and that scene is beautiful. I thought, it was quite appropriate that, only Vavvali dances (his character is of Tamil origin) and the Keralites (who dont believe in such expressions of joy, like dancing) sitting around just watching. Genelia has got a very different role and she has tried her best to excell and is really good. I would still say she is best fit for her roles like in Sachin or Bommarallu (Santhosh Subramaniam). There is a scene in which Kelu is trying to motivate the peasants to join him in the war. Ayesha is seen sitting in the background. Her posture, for a princess from the most prominent Muslim rulers of Kerala, was quite strange and even modern. This is not her fault, but that shot stood out as something un appropriate. Nithya surprised me as the Chirackal princess. Here is a role in which she doesnt have much to do but she has excelled in it. Her subtle expressions of anger and seduction were excellent. I really hope she will look into more serious roles in the future. And finally Prithviraj as Kelu is the major star attraction. There is no question about his charm and the effort he has taken for this role. His dialogue delivery, especially in the first half, was really good. But I really felt, he might have wasted an opportunity in taking this character to another level, like what Mammooty did with Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. And it would be a sin to not mention about two small characters. Arya as Kelus father and the actor who played Chirackal king, who also were excellent.

I also have to say that the background score was excellent for most parts. The particular bit played for scenes between Vavvali and Bala, was brilliant.

Whatever, I was very happy to see Urumi. I would consider it as the best period movie in Malayalam, after Vaishaali, Perumthachan, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha and Parinayam, inspite of all its short comings. May be it would have been great if it was scripted by M. T. Vasudevannair, who scripted all those movies of the 80's.

I thank Santhosh Sivan and his team, for making a good movie in Malayalam.

When I saw the stills before the movie, I thought - ah.. three gorgeous women (Tabu, Vidya Balan and Nithya) and Genelia here. But it just turned out for Nithya and Genelia only. Tabu and Vidya doing only some cameos.