*Pls don’t read this if you have not watched the film yet. Stop right here, and just go and watch the movie, and then read this* …
It will be cruel to review Uttama Villain as a sum of parts. How some sequences were nice, how one song was wonderful, how one particular scene was well shot …
Uttama Villain works as an absolute whole.
This is not even a review. It is more a post on how I experienced the movie, given my disposition at the time of watching it. I think that’s how most movies work with audience, and even the reviews I suspect have a lot to do with what state of mind the audience member is in. (I have been accused of praising some not so good movies before.)
That said, very few films have the power to alter the collective mood of an audience inside a hall, and take them along on a journey. I think Uttama Villain will be long remembered as one of the films that managed to do that.
I think every one knows by now that Uttama Villain is about the making of a movie.
The protagonist reigning Superstar Manoranjan is ailing from a critical condition. And even before we scorn on how cliched that is as a plot point, one of the main characters the veteran director Margadarisi mouths it: “Ada poda, intha kathaya naane neraya tharavai pannitene da” (Get lost, even I have made this story into film several times. Even you have made it four or five times.)
Manoranjan corrects: “Ithu kathai illa. Ithu nejam”. (This is not a story (for my film). It is the truth.)
Margadarisi’s countenance changes. “Ennada solre. Paavi. Nee chinna payyanda.” (What are you trying to suggest? You are a young fellow.)
Somehow, we have come to associate cinema as an entertainment medium that must only make us laugh or feel entertained. Stark emotions are for real life. But that is a more recent development, say in the last two decades maybe as far as Tamil cinema goes. K.Balachander always packed his films with raw emotions and strong characters.
And so begins the cinema within the cinema, where Manoranjan strives to entertain his audience in a manner that they have come to expect of him: as the folk artist Uttaman in a story set in the 8th century, in a fusion of Villupaatu (for narrative) and Theyyam (for form).
(It is indeed what we have come to expect of Kamal too. Such an impossible feat managed so easily. Here is an actor who writes such songs, speaks such Tamil, dances so many artforms, and yet sometimes bears the brunt of criticism spun from the trade pundits hankering over the Rs. 100 crore club.)
The folkstory is riddled with cliches but ones that are a part of our traditional form of story-telling: a conspiring evil minister who kills a king to take his place, and his greed that drives him to seek eternal life.
And the King’s deliverance is in the form of an actor, who tells him that while physical immortality is absurd and that true immortality lies in being an artist and a creator.
The King knows that he is not blessed with any skills for any arts, and opts for seemingly the most easiest: an actor. But what good is the King as an actor who cannot remember his own lines. Surely that is the end of any actor. And so the actor dies, twice when he realises that he no longer remembers his lines. (That’s a spoiler but you won’t get it unless you have watched the movie.)
The underlying theme of Uttama Villain that a true creator never dies is conveyed succinctly. The only place where the hero lives on is on the screen. There is nothing novel about the message, but it takes nothing short of the genius, and the madness, of Kamal in trying to take it to the most common denominator.
At a time when Tamil cinema seems to be in the danger of falling away from the revival led by young film-makers over the last decade, and when even the few good directors are just rehashing their old stories again and again, Kamal and Ramesh Aravind have delivered a gem.
Kamal the actor has again outdone himself, but more importantly Uttama Villain seems to be a case where the story-teller in him has reached a state of self-awareness. For long, he has strived to bridge the gap between cinema as an art form and as an entertainment medium. Uttama Villain is easily one of his best attempts at that.
The established actors, even young stars in Tamil films at least, like to play it safe. But Kamal stands out as the rarest of rare who has made risk-taking his safety net.
Somehow, if Kamal acts in a safe, masala-grade material, even his hardcore fans would feel a bit disappointed. As a hardcore fan myself, I did not like Vishwaroopam or Dasavatharam all that much.
Which is why I absolutely loved Uttama Villain.
And what can one say about the scenes featuring Kamal and K.Balachander. The dialogues seemed so serendipitous. Bravo!
On the actors and the technicians: all of them delivered Kamal-grade performance.
(I don’t want to go in to specifics about individual actors or technicians in this post. I might do that again, after watching Uttama Villain a second or a third time.)