Uttama Villain – “A true artiste lives forever”

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Film:  Uttama Villain
Genre:  Comedy-Drama
Directed by:  Ramesh Aravind
Story and Screenplay: Kamal Haasan
Starring:  Kamal Haasan, Nassar, Jayaram, Urvashi, Andrea Jeremiah, Pooja Kumar, Parvathi Menon, M.S. Bhaskar, Parvathy Nair
Music by:  M. Ghibran
Storyline:  A dying artiste decides to make his last film about an immortal man, and in process, leaves his love and legacy behind. 
Cinematography:  Shamdat
Edited by:  Vijay Shankar
Production Company:  Thirrupathi Brothers, Raaj Kamal Films International
Running time:  171 minutes 8 Sec

It’s complicated – an artiste’s life. Remember the dialogue in Vishwaroopam where Vishwanath played by Kamal Haasan angrily tells his wife: “I have a lot of emotional baggage and this is not the time to discuss about it.”? Kamal finally finds a comfortable space where he probably can shed some of what has been grinding him deep inside.

The fact that the story and screenplay is written by Kamal Haasan himself, unavoidably leaves one wondering – is that all? Or is there more that is unsaid? There is a lot of pain mixed with love, and care mixed with deceit. And it is hard to draw defining lines. Being born in a conservative society and rising above all odds to become a super star, Kamal’s personal life has been in question and been dissected several times. In a way, this film feels like a fitting reply. Or is it a statement of apology, asking for empathy? Irrespective of how one may view it, this surely is one of his best written screenplays. 

Manoranjan (played by Kamal) is a super star in the film industry. He is married to Varalakshmi alias Varu (played by Urvashi). But before the flamboyance of the star’s life puts you off, you enter the real space that Manoranjan lives in – a sheer lack of privacy and personal time. He is very thirsty as an actor, but is entangled in relationships that he is unable to do justice to. Dr Arpana (played by Andrea Jeremiah) is his love interest outside marriage and there is no clear explanation or justification provided for this relationship throughout the film. It is left for the viewers to comprehend.

The opening song “Single kiss-ke love-aa?” makes you go “Not again!” Because the way the film starts reminds us of the nauseating self-indulgent star movies that we are so done with. But thankfully, the movie moves far from the bad-start. And much higher.

He is dying. Manoranjan’s Arpana is the first to know. And this breaks her heart. What a way to name a character! – “Arpana”. True to her name, she is all love and dedication.  She is not just his doctor but also confidante, so keeps the news to herself. Soon fear of death changes Manoranjan’s priorities and he wishes to revisit everything about his life, in the little time that he has.

When in trouble, you run to those you trust the most. He rushes to his guru, celebrated filmmaker Margadarshi (played by ‘Iyakkunar Sigaram’ K Balachander), requesting to make one-last film that will make people laugh. Together, they make one – a film about a man who beats death. What irony!

The movie beautifully swings from reel to real. In reality, the superstar Manoranjan is counting his days, whereas the eight-century artiste ‘Uttaman’ that he plays in his last movie is an immortal.

A powerful question that the films asks, “Saagaavaram pol sogam undo? Theeraa kadhaiyai ketpaar undo?” (Is there an agony greater than being immortal? Will anyone listen to a story that never ends?) reminds us that death is not just inevitable but also important.

In a way, death also breaks barriers. Manoranjan’s daughter Manonmani (played by Parvathi Menon) born through his first love affair Yamini, is not too keen about her biological father who she believes, has cheated her mother. But through his last letter to her mother, she learns of his love for her. Similarly, Manoranjan and Varu’s son Manohar, who otherwise seems disinterested in any conversation with his father, breaks down on the news of his impending death. The boy, in fact, delivers the best line in the film – “Oru nalla screenplay ezhudhanum. Kodambakkathuku neenga yaarunu kaattanum” (I must write a good screenplay. I must show people who you are).

The way all the characters are named and etched, the scenes of Manoranjan with his loved ones, the nuanced performances of Kamal, KB Sir, Urvashi, Andrea, and even the ever-brilliant M.S. Bhaskhar as Chokku, Manoranjan’s manager – are reasons to believe that this a good piece of cinema in a long time from the Kamal Haasan territory. There are many moments of truth. Despite the two-layered story (story within story), the taut screenplay and editing put things rightly in place. It is an excellent take on stardom and death – the unmasking of both.

If you are a film lover, it is heart-breaking to see KB Sir’s last performance. But he shines as ‘Margadarshi’ – the path shower. And the path that he shows – is Art, in its truest form – which the film certainly is.

 

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