Wednesday, April 13

Urumi is fantastic.

Movie - Urumi (Malayalam)
Director - Santosh Sivan
Producers - Santosh Sivan, Shaji Nadeshan, Prithviraj Sukumaran
Story, Screenplay, Dialogues - Shanker Ramakrishnan
Cast - Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Jagathy Sreekumar, Amole Gupte, Genelia, Nithya Menen, Vidya Balan, Arya, Ankur Sharma, Robin Pratt, Alexx O'Neill, Shaji Nadeshan
Director of Photography - Santosh Sivan ISC
Additional Cinematography - Anjali Shukla, Alphonse Roy
Music & Background Score - Deepak Dev
Editing - Sreekar Prasad
Action - Anal Arasu
Art Direction - Sunil Babu
Costumes - Eka Lakhani
Make Up - Ranjith Ambady
Release Date - 31st March 2011

Not so long ago, a maverick filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino made a kickass movie called Ingourious Basterds with his own fantasized version of German History, where historical characters became part of a zany fictional story. Famed cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan & first time writer Shanker Ramakrishnan have attempted something similar in Urumi, where historical characters become part of a fantasy tale about revenge, redemption and freedom, told in the form of a ballad. If QT's Basterds told the story of a bunch of people who set out to kill Adolf Hitler, Urumi tells the story of one man and his best friend who had just one goal - the death of the famed explorer Vasco Da Gama. And as promised, Urumi is a fantastic visual experience mounted on an epic scale with an intriguing screenplay. 

The movie begins with a narration on Vasco Da Gama by Malayalam Cinema's own KPAC Lalitha, lending it the fairy tale nature which Santosh Sivan always tries to capture through his films. We see the young & aimless Krishnadas (Prithviraj) & Tarzan (Prabhu Deva) taken back to Kerala from Goa to negotiate a deal to sell KD's ancestral property to an international mining company. But before they seal the deal, they are captured by tribals who occupy the land and their head (Arya) narrates the story of their land, which spans back a few centuries. Cut to sometime during 1500 AD - Chirakkal Kothuvaal (Arya again) dies a brave death fighting against Vasco Da Gama during his second visit to Kerala. And this ignites a fire for revenge inside his son Kelu Nayanar (Prithviraj again) to kill Vasco Da Gama. He grows up with his Muslim friend Vavvali (Prabhu Deva, again) to become a fierce warrior. In the process of getting towards his goal, he gets into an alliance with Chirakkal Thampuraan (Amole Gupte) despite the presence of the scheming Chenicheri Kurup (Jagathy Sreekumar) and also meets the fiery warrior princess Arackal Ayesha (Genelia) who later joins forces with him. Whether Kelu will get his revenge or not becomes the crux of the film. 

Urumi is perhaps Santosh Sivan's finest film as a director (The Terrorist & Halo being his two other great films) and the film has his stamp all over it. When India's most celebrated cinematographer directs a movie, he is bound to tell his story through some striking images, which is exactly what Mr.Sivan has done in this movie. Unlike his previous work as a cinematographer - Raavanan, which received a lot of flak for being just a showcase for some magical visuals, Urumi unravels almost completely through the mindblowing images that Santosh Sivan has captured in his camera. Shanker's script gives ample space for Mr.Sivan to play around with his visuals which he has clearly enjoyed doing. The movie is told in the form of a ballad where history, mythology and fantasy blend seamlessly with each other. From building a mirror between present day happenings and ancient history to recreating a period seen never before in our cinema with virgin lands almost permanently covered in mist, Santosh Sivan & his writer Shanker have done a mindblowing job. And unlike the usual coconut trees, backwaters and Athirappilli waterfalls, Santosh Sivan has showcased a different kind of greenery, a different kind of Kerala in the film. And there couldnt be a better setting for the movie. 

Prithviraj is restrained as Kelu Nayanar and does remarkably well. But one misses the fire of revenge in his eyes and body language at many instances which makes his character a little weak at times. And when it comes to the initial comic portions as Krishnadas, he overdoes it a little as usual. The actor has a beefed up look (inspired by Salman Khan's Veer) which didnt create the required impact on the posters, but works very well in the film. His dialogue delivery was very good and needs special mention. Prabhu Deva completely overshadows Prithviraj by stealing the show from him in every frame they appear together (there are hardly any scenes where they are not together). Prabhu Deva brings in the comic, fun element of the film and the audience establishes an emotional connect with his character rather than the protagonist played by Prithviraj. Its a delight to see Prabhu Deva acting after a long time and that giving such a fabulous performance. He scores in every department - be it comedy, romance, dance or action.  Jagathy Sreekumar is the other scene-stealer in the movie. The legendary actor plays an effeminate minister Chenichery Kuruppu with utmost perfection. We Malayalis havent had the opportunity to see the actor in such a role earlier and he stuns us with his performance in it. Genelia is in complete contrast to the cute bubbly girl we've seen in so many movies as she plays a fiery warrior princess. She does unbelievably well in the action sequences which deserves a whole lot of appreciation for her effort and dedication. But otherwise, her performance wasnt very great. Her chemistry with Prithviraj was also very cold and didnt create any impact. Her lip sync was completely out of place as well. 

Amole Gupte is brilliant as the flamboyant king and the actor never lets us know that its a non-Malayali actor playing the role. The dubbing artiste Hareendranath also requires a special mention for doing an awesome job. The irresistible Nithya Menen plays the romantic interest of Prabhu Deva (or  should it be the other way round) and even though she is not that important in the main plot, she does extremely well in the flirtatious scenes with Prabhu Deva and the wonderful song. Arya in an extended cameo is great. Prithviraj's dubbing for him was a little unsettling initially, but then we get used to it. Vidya Balan plays the mystic character Maakkam who clears a dilemma in the mind of Kelu and features in a raunchy song as well. She does fine, but the costumes she wore in the song looked totally out of place in a film like this. She has dubbed by herself and her Malayalam was actually quite good. Ankur Sharma as the good for nothing prince Bhanu Vikraman was partly good, partly bad. That he is completely unfamiliar with the language, reflects in his acting and affects it too. Alexx O'Neil (earlier seen in Madhrasappattinam) is very good as Estavio Da Gama and Robin Pratt is equally effective as the explorer Vasco Da Gama. The co-producer of the movie Shaji Nadeshan plays the part of a dedicated soldier and has a good screen presence. The rest of the supporting cast is also very effective. Tabu's appearance in a song doesnt work all that much. 

Shanker Ramakrishnan's highly researched screenplay where history blends seamlessly with fantasy is definitely brilliant for a first time writer. He lives up to the promise he gave through his short film Island Express in the Kerala Cafe anthology. He creates a perfect mirror to what happened centuries ago through the present day events, although the good and evil have taken different forms now. He slightly loses his grip during the few romantic interludes between Prithviraj & Genelia which slows down the pace of the movie. But otherwise he grabs the audience by their throat and holds their attention till the last frame of the movie. Each character has a distinct and unique characterization and many of them have different sides to their personalities which we havent seen quite often with characters in our Malayalam Cinema. The story goes a full circle and builds up to an effective, satisfying closure with a ray of hope. The mirroring of characters from the past and the present was a great touch too. The language spoken in the movie is slightly difficult to follow, especially the significant historical details and terminologies used during that period. (I actually got a complete picture only on the second viewing, which I enjoyed even better than my first one). The dialogues are kickass to say the least. Coming from Ranjith's school of filmmaking, it is no surprise that Shanker can write really kickass dialogues. Its also a reminder that punch dialogues need not be high voltage lines which rhyme. And without resorting to that, Shanker has packed a powerful punch in so many of his dialogue. A slight MT influence creeps in here and there in the dialogue (maybe because only he has written good dialogues in this genre of films so far in Malayalam), but thats not a bad thing at all. All in all, a tremendous effort from Ranjith's protege Shanker Ramakrishnan which deserves an ovation. 

The cinematography of the film is lyrical to say the least. Each image is poetry in motion and contributes so much to the telling of the story, rather than staying just awesome visuals arranged to make a story. In addition to the director & DOP Santosh Sivan, last year's National Award winner Anjali Shukla (Kutty Srank) and Alphonse Roy (Aamir) have also worked for the film.  The virgin locations and perpetually misty atmosphere creates a completely new world different from anything we've seen on screen so far. Be it the use of different animals to enhance the frames or the slow motions shots or the extreme close ups, everything looks so bloody good. The CGI and DI are also done very effectively, especially during the fight sequence in the second half shot in a dawn effect. The only place where the visuals are jarring was the 'Aaro Nee Aaro' song which looked totally out of context in a movie like this. And the way it was shot, with extreme slow motion, looked more like it was an Amal Neerad song rather than a Santosh Sivan song. The climactic battle also could've gone easy on the slow motion, but it works even otherwise. 

Deepak Dev's music is nothing short of epic. He has realized the scale of the movie and delivered what it exactly needs. A grand score with some great songs ranging in different genres. 'Aarane Aarane' and 'Chimmi Chimmi' are the hot favourites of the season. The tribal songs 'Appa Nammude' and 'Thelu Thele' are sublimely beautiful. The beautiful 'Aaro Nee Aaro' and the sensuous 'Chalanam Chalanam' have disappointing visualizations. The theme music score is out of this world and is one of the best compositions Deepak Dev has come up with. The background score, despite the slight AR Rahman influence is brilliant, to say the least. It completely enhances the feel of the scenes and takes them to another level. One can surely say Urumi is Deepak Dev's career best work. Sreekar Prasad's editing is perfect as the movie has a seamless flow throughout. Sunil Babu's tremendous efforts at recreating the atmosphere of the bygone era has paid off richly. Ranjith Ambady's make up and Eka Lakhani's costumes are authentic as well as imaginative. Anal Arasu's action choreography is stunning. Sound Design by Rajakrishnan is pure brilliance. 

On the whole, Urumi is a complete audio visual experience which is definitely something new and rare for the Malayali audience. And all this is done within a completely entertaining format, making it one of the finest entertainers in recent times as well. Fabulous performances, stunning cinematography, great music and sound design, spectacular action and a fine screenplay transport you completely into a different world, and by the end of it all, gives us a reality check that the situations are not that different even now. Though there are a few glitches, they are not as big to hamper the great experience the movie provides on the whole. Urumi is also the kind of film which grows on you slowly and with each re-watch. Had it been a little tighter, it could've featured amongst our all time classics. Shanker Ramakrishnan proves to us that there's still some hope left in this industry. Kudos to Prithviraj, Shaji Nadeshan and Santosh Sivan for venturing into this mammoth production and coming out trumps and thereby bringing cheer to our industry. Here's wishing all the very best to August Cinema for their future endeavours. Watch, if you havent already. 

P.S. - Watch at a very good screen with extremely good projection and sound systems to enjoy the movie completely. Sridhar's poor screen and sound did impact my first viewing and I could enjoy the movie in all its glory only on a second viewing at Q Cinemas.

Bottomline - A fantastic experience which Malayalis shouldnt be missing at any cost. 


  1. I honestly was confused about the backdrop and how Vasco de Gama fit in but this has clarified that. In all honesty I was worried that the hype would kill a normal film but its good that directors like Santhosh Sivan are branching away from the boy-girl love storyline. Personally, I loved Raavanan for Santhosh's camera to say the least. So am eagerly anticipating this film. Sadly will not be able to watch it on the big screen since Malayalam films don't release in Sydney very often (read:never!). Hopefully, there won't be a long delay on the DVD :)

    As usual amazingly written.. Keep up the awesomeness Vivek!

  2. Vivek, I'm a regular reader of your blog. We don't have the same tastes (in fact , we are rarely on the same side as far as movies go), but you are quite articulate in your analyses. You always say how good a movie is, and then back it up with the whys. That, I'll say, is what a good critic should do.
    Now, the bad part. This review about Urumi reads like a sell-out. I have never been more infuriated by one of your reviews (except possibly the one on My Name is Khan). It's sad that all the cinematic embellishments (the shots, the music and the period atmosphere) clouded your analyses on the whole.
    Since you have been all-prasie for the technical side I'll begin with my opinion on those. Cinematography is the only thing that's going for this low-brow period piece . Even that too, pose some discomfort. The extreme close-ups in indoor scenes are an unsuccessful attempt to hide a lack of true-to-period sets. And the outdoors: Was that really the land of coconuts? I doubt it. Some of the sets are straight out of Braveheart. Deepak Dev's music? Yes, the songs are quite extraordinary. But the soundtrack? Hans Zimmer will weep. It sounds like an audio collage of the background score of Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Braveheart and countless silly Hollywood movie trailers.
    The script? It's erudite, but only superficially. The storytelling is so clumsy that a viewer has to jump, fall, scurry and hang on to the plotlines. The characters? The idea that's thrust upon viewers is this: Kelu is a damn brave hero. In fact, the idea is that he was born a hero. It just so happened that Gama was there so that he can kill somebody and become a legend. The character is as dry as soil on mars and as deep as a dent on your table top. COME ON!!!
    In a logical world, Prithviraj 's character would have gotten himself killed within a few minutes of the start of the film.
    The performances? Except Arya (who is masterful in those early fighting sequences) and Jagathy (who delivers yummy Sakuni -type faux- villainy), everybody a letdown. Prithviraj seems to have this belief that a piercing stare and subtle muscle flexes are all it takes to create to be taken seriously. I haven't seen a more extraordinary piece of wooden acting since........ when?? Uh, I don't know, sorry.
    I have lots of other complaints. But, alas, I am already feeling
    bored by this grumbling (I know u are, too. Lol) But pls don't reply to this in the lines "dont-compare-with-hollywood-this-is-a-poor-malayalam-film" protest. I'm talking about creativity here. I wud have respected Urumi's makers if they had tried and failed in an attempt that was fully-baked and original. But no respects for this below-par bunkum.

    And oh btw, this funny thing happened when I was watching the film at Q Cinemas. I was so bored soon after the interval that I took my cellphone out and googled Urumi, to know how much more of it remained. The duration of the movie was 160 minutes, Wikipedia told me. "50 minutes more, man," I told my friend sitting next to me on the right. Suddenly, a guy on the left, who was also keying his cellphone, asked: "Wow, what's your connection man? Is it 3G?"

  3. Well Navin, I respect your opinion and like the way you've voiced it. But what I've said is what I felt while watching the movie. I had a great experience watching it and would vouch for that to anybody.

    And regarding Kelu, yes Prithviraj's weak acting definitely did some damage. But being a born hero is nothing extraordinary in a fantasy ballad like this. Again, this is not a historical - its a fictionalized take set in the backdrop of actual history and involving certain historic characters. The point is that he didnt become a legend, and he was forgotten as Vavvali said, when the world acclaimed Gama.

    And I wouldnt even attempt to compare any Indian film with Hollywood, the kind of cinema they make is different and the kind of money they have is even more different. If you dont want to give them respects, its your choice, I definitely do. They have faltered at places, but they're not as big to damage the overall experience that the movie gives.

  4. And thanks Githa. :) I was also quite skeptical about the movie prior to its release. But it proved me wrong.

  5. urumi was a pleaseant surprise to me..though a die hard,prithviraj fan,was a bit sceptical about this movie prior to the release..This movie turned out to be a very good one for me....a very good effort indeed..btw gud analysis(though a bit lengthy...!)

  6. Great analysis Vivek...!! Saw the movie from Mysore. Here it was released in an utter crap talkies where sound was not at all clear and the visual quality blurred(And people say that the talkies was previously a marriage auditorium!!). So I'm gonna watch this movie one more time when I reach Kerala!!!

  7. Vivek, that was diplomatic :-)
    Yes, it's unfair to compare our cinema with the Hollywood biggies. But that is NOT a licence for patchy storytelling, is it? And also a rip-off background score like Deepak Dev's.
    You remember seeing films like "Kochi Express" or "Kannur Deluxe"? Pure glee, watching those. And those were the kind of "trashy" films we had 40 years back. Compare that to the production scene today. We got a Rs 20 crore film, but what is it offering? Some fantastic camerawork. That's it. Nothing more. There's nothing ORIGINAL. Does some original thinking on the filmmakers' part require a high budget?
    There's a trend these days: to copy ideas from western movies. Then, if someone points out that a particular idea was "borrowed" and was not executed well, the filmmaker cries foul. THAT, I'll say, is not fair.
    One more: I disagree with ur statement that there's nothing wrong if a leading character is born a hero in a fantasy ballad. How can we accept someone as a hero-character, if we, the audience, don't even know him? Or care for him? The hero is always "built" by the storyteller, not "born".
    I know Mohan Lal's superhuman-type roles are always "born". But what actually happens there is that those type of roles are actually banking on Mohan Lal's wide acceptance as an actor, and a hero. So, there. :-)

  8. Well, I guess there is totally no point to a debate here as I am totally unconvinced about your point of view here. For you that maybe right, but my reading of the film is different. Urumi is not just about great camerawork. If it was so, it would've remained another Asoka.

    Other than a broad framework of an epic movie genre, I dont think the movie was borrowed or copied from any particular Hollywood productions. Yes, there might be influences from some well made Hollywood films, but influences are good as long as they're transformed into something new by the writer/director, which they've done successfully here.

    Not only Mohanlal, any hero in any action/adventure/fantasy genre film in any part of the world, is a brave hero by default. It is what he does with that quality of his, that interests us in that genre of films. And in other films like Batman Begins or similar stuff, we follow the journey and the growth of the hero, where he is built as you said. Does anyone question the bravery of Bruce Willis in Die Hard? So I dont think that question of yours is valid. Yes, greater acting and a greater star appeal like that of Mohanlal's would've made a lot of difference (not that Mohanlal would suit the role in any way right now). If you're telling a brave warrior's story, you know that he's a brave warrior and that is established here also through his initial introductory scenes itself.

    If the filmmaker has lifted a complete plot and then he cries foul that it was original, then he should be slapped. An adaptation is a slightly more acceptable form and inspiration is another thing altogether. Nothing can be achieved just through imagination, there would be some amount of inspiration behind it as well. And if its used well, that can be the best thing about your work contributing much more to your imagination as well.

    You're free to have your opinion and I like the way you voice it also. Similarly, I have mine and I standy by that. And it would be quite a task to convince me against that. :)

  9. I cannot agree more! Brilliant Movie it is!
    Each frame is like a beautiful poetry! Loved it; totally!

    ...n never I knew Vasco-da-gama was such a thendi! :P :P


  10. Urumi was great for me too,amidst many mixed reviews-i loved it

  11. thats a well observed review Vivek n i agree with the fact that Prithvi was kinda over as KD.,but still i loved the movie