varnachitram

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Review: Urumi

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZEwfhSYgy0

For those of us used to seeing so called “Entertainers” like Twenty-Twenty or various mindless comedy movies, Urumi is a welcome change. It is a bold move from the producers to think of a big canvas movie, get a pan-Indian cast and film it as professionally as possible. The movie falls into a new category which can only be called fantasy-historical-fiction for it is not historical-fiction. In historical fiction, the writer tries to stay within the historical narrative and weave a tale without violating the space-time continuum. Brilliant writers like M.T even weave a new tale within the given parameters. But in this movie Shanker Ramakrishnan decided to throw the history out of the window. Instead what we have is a tale which takes place during Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India and that is pretty much the history part. Rest of the stuff is his imagination in overdrive mode and he makes it very clear in the begining of the movie when he writes all incidents have been changed for dramatic purposes.

But guess what. We don’t have any issue with it. A story is a story and the only question is if the dramatic purpose has been served. It a revenge saga of a boy who wanted to kill Gama because Gama killed his father. We can call this a Hero’s journey for it tries to follow a set pattern as the hero travels and goes through new lands and has new adventures. In this movie Kelu Nayanar’s calling is revenge. He knows Vasco da Gama is in town and wants to kill him. In fact at the begining of the movie itself the pre-history is given and Kelu has crossed the threshold and made a commitment.

So now that the motive has been given, what do you do for the next 2 hours 30 minutes? We see him travel along with his buddy Vavvali (Prabhu Deva) and during their travel they meet rest of the cast — Chirakkal Bala (Nithya Menon), her father (Amol Gupte), the king of Kolothunaadu and his scheming minister (Jagathi Sreekumar). They also meet Arakkal Ayesha (Genelia), Vavvali’s mother and also an Oracle (Vidya Balan). Finally, as expected, Kelu gets his revenge.

Imagine now that you are on a travel and you meet all these people and take their pictures. It is not really an interesting journey isn’t it. You need some twists in the plot. In fact there are some twists in the sub-plots, but none of them affect Kelu or his personality. The sub-plot concerns the way Kolothunadu is ruled and the succession battle there. There is another sub-plot concerning Arakkal Ayesha and her fight, but that too has nothing to do with Kelu, except for the fact that he is around. In such movies, what you want to see is the hero being put to test, completely pushed to the ground and how he survives that, rises and achieves his goal. Think Devasuram. Neelakantan is pushed to the ground and his machoism cannot save him. He has to rely on Revathi’s character to teach him some lessons about himself and life. As you empathize with him, there is a transformation in the viewer. The viewer who hated him till interval is now rooting for him.

In Urumi though, Kelu is never down. He is like Mayavi who appears in every troubled scene and saves the damsel. That is not really interesting. In Star Wars, when Luke is down, he has to go to a mentor, Yoda, who trains him and he returns back. Our heroes don’t need any training. They are experts in fighting and singing the moment they are born. There is no change in Kelu’s personality in the 150 minutes of the movie. He delivers dialogue in the same dead-pan mode and this makes him really an uninteresting person.

But there are three people who make the movie interesting: Jagathi, Amol Gupte and Nithya Menon. They get quite a number of scenes and it is a delight to watch them perform. These are well etched characters.

We already have written about the music, so lets mention a few things about cinemotography. It is by Santosh Sivan and there is nothing more we need to say. The visuals cannot get better than this. But just watching brilliant visuals without a strong story does not make a memorable movie. But then Santosh Sivan has some staple shots which are repeated in most of his movies. There is a scene in Asoka where SRK and Kareena take bath in slow motion under a waterfall. There is an exactly similar shot in this movie. Another obesession of his is eyeballs and closeups of eyeballs. From Terrorist to this movie, you see the same shot. In one song all the characters jump up and down on an invisible trampoline. You can call these shots his signature, but these repetitive shots pull you away from the immersive experience.

While the songs are terrfic, another let down is the BGM. Look at the scene where Chirakkal Bala is attacked and the music that goes in that scene. It is a fight scene and the music is the most inappropriate one. We know why it was done. Each person has a particular theme and that music is blindly dumped when the character appears. Similarly there is a piece when Ayesha appears and she is asked to sit on the lap of Chirakkal king’s lap. There is a scene where Prithviraj comes to resceue Ayesha and guess what music plays in the fight scene?

The next terrible thing in the movie is the visualization of songs. We simply loved hearing those songs, but when we saw them, some were not interesting. Aarane Aarane was done very well and so was Chimmi Chimmi. But look at the visuals for Aaro Nee Aaro. It is like a rock video songs with all the extras and Prithvi jumping up and down. It looks as if people from the 15th century suddenly time traveled to the 21st century MTV studio. Also the Oracle song called Chalanam Chalanam was simply terrible.

The movie brings up an important issue that none of us know about our history and care about it. Thus when the movie starts we see this guy called Krishnadas who is selling his ancestral property and then after hearing about Vasco’s story, changes his mind. The movie also paints the true picture of Vasco da Gama who was one blood thirsty trader. While the visuals are stunning, there is nothing great about the story. It is not the stuff of classic movies. While the creators have made a decent entertainer, they have missed an opportunity to create a Gladiator. We had great expectations from Shankar-Ramakrishnan-Santosh Sivan combo and maybe that is why we are disappointed.

7 Comments

  1. Right on the spot!

  2. i guess the genre can be called alternative history..like inglourious basterds..

    “In Urumi though, Kelu is never down. He is like Mayavi who appears in every troubled scene and saves the damsel. That is not really interesting”

    i think the character of chirakkal kothuval(arya) was more interesting than kelu nayanar even though he had only 10 minutes of on-screen time.

    and i disagree with vc on the bgm part which i think was well done..eg: in some scenes, esp when they are in the abandoned temple where the oracle appears, in the background you can hear sounds of quails and water droplets which adds to creating a mystical atmosphere!

  3. The message of the movie which Tribal Arya says to Krishnadas, that one needs to know one’s own history and legacy. I think, this dialogue must be told to its own scriptwriter first. Throw history out of window and create an own history with historical characters…. Woww that’s great. Unlike Inglourious_Basterds where every single character except Hitler is frictional, in Urumi rather directly opposite. Every single character except its protagonist Kelu Nayar (and his friend Vavali) are historically real.

    The only saving grace was stunning visuals, some great music and overall larger canvas theme. Perhaps those who were continuously fed with waste, may feel this as a refreshing change, but definitely missed itself to be a classic or MUST-WATCH category

  4. I had a chance to watch the movie, and I have to say, I’m not as blown-over as most of the critics whose reviews were posted here. While it might be different from recent malayalam movies, that doesn’t make it great. Music was good, as usual Santosh Sivan’s visuals are superb, but apart from that, there was nothing really terrific in terms of performances or script. The narration by KPAC Lalitha was a nice start, but the rest the movie just wasn’t engaging enough for me, instead it felt like it was dragging.

    I normally judge the merit of a movie by how watchable it is even after many years. I still enjoy watching Yodha, particularly because of the comedic scenes between Mohanlal and Jagathy; I can still watch Anandabhadram, for Manoj K. Jayan’s delightful performance; as for Urumi, I really cannot see myself wanting to watch it again for any particular reason.

  5. Pingback: Thoughts on Urumi (The Curling Blade) | varnachitram

  6. Pingback: Indian History Carnival – 41: Vasco da Gama, Universal Hinduism, Ravi Varma, Babylon | varnam

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