It begins with a beginning. The première for a movie within the movie. Kamalhassan’s Manoranjan – superstar – is soaking in the adulation in as he walks in. His family is there, an iPhone toting teenage son who couldn’t care less, and a starstruck wife. A manager who is more than that.
Then he breaks out into a song. In the movie within the movie of course. He does exaggeratedly stereotyped dance moves, he does wheelies on a motorcycle with a girl in tow, he kisses her, she has short skirts on most of the time.
The premiere ends, cueing a whirlwind series of scenes. Bathroom. Drinking. Passed out man. A gorgeous Andrea, who is a doctor, but not just a doctor. Jayaram pacing. A very contemporary iPhone driven romance.
The entire sequence leaves you puzzled. I want to laugh, but maybe I shouldn’t. I want to be intrigued, but maybe I shouldn’t. I want to be touched, but what if I am meant to be laughing.
Either this is a genre bending masterpiece, or this is a mishmash of disjoint scenes.
And that confusion never ends.
This is an MS Bhaskar movie. A Nasser movie. A Jayaram movie. It is the movie with the best supporting cast in recent memory, and boy, do they deliver.
It shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone that is familiar with his work, but still, he was a revelation.
When he laughed, we laughed. When he cried, we did too.
Mostly though, he was doing damage control. In the movie, and outside.
There is another movie within. It is called Uttama Villain too. Manoranjan is an actor after all – An actor who wants to make a movie the world will remember him by.
The director he picks? His estranged mentor, Maragadarisi. Who, it so happens, is played by K Balachander, Kamal Hassan’s real life mentor. A Balachander who got sicker as the shoot progressed. The youngest old man in films, who looked frail and fidgety. And if you see the film, you’ll see that for what it is. Sad, delicious irony.
The movie is unapologetically sentimental because at its heart, it is a family drama. Grown men cry, and the shadow of death hangs over the entire film. Shamdat Sainudeen’s camera is intimate; a lot of close-ups and tightly enclosed spaces enhance the feeling of emotional discomfort.
But it is also unsentimental. Snakes bite people to death, but snake owners care more about snakes than people. Manoranjan is unabashed about being in love with multiple women. In a particularly telling sequence, he tells his wife he loves her (and it is obvious he means it too), before proceeding to (rather tenderly) calling another woman his love.
Also, there is a lot of (butt) scratching. Some of it even leads to dying.
Uttama Villain can be hilarious too, in that patented Kamal Haasan – Crazy Mohan fashion. A TV anchor, bearing a suspicious resemblance to one you would drink Koffee with, is asked to stop gushing and get to the point. A one eared king and a group of instrumentalists playing the fanfare at the most inappropriate moments; that old trope of clueless ministers and the court jester; a mara thamazachi with a pet tiger (but no muram); and an immortal actor who is not immortal.
In this movie within a movie, the camera does its grandstanding: Wide angles and open spaces; perhaps compensating for the claustrophobic closeups elsewhere. But for a period setting, the art direction is like a curate’s egg: good only in places. Especially when those places already look old.
But then from this motley crew of comics comes deep thoughts on the immortality of artists and the futility of immortality.
Did I say it was puzzling?
The film must have sounded good on paper. A sentimental drama, interlaced with a period comedy. And then someone decided to lace the drama with humour and the comedy with a lot of sentiment.
Laced generously with self-indulgence.
Manoranjan, Margadarisi, Manonmani and Poornachandra Rao. With names like this, one thinks the scriptwriter must be from another generation.
The music director though, is very much this generation. Ghibran tries his hand at a villupattu and a theyyam; and a song that is very current.
Single Kisske Lovea
Singara Poove Lovea.
Kaadhalam Kadavul Mun however transcends generations. It is a beautiful song. And that is that.
The movie has a lot going for it. Competent direction (Ramesh Aravind), great performances, and very good technicians.
Yet it lacks the fluidity that define good movies, of scenes naturally flowing into each other; the cohesion that binds well written works of art.
What is worse than the curse of immortality, the film asks us at the end. Who would like an endless story?
Cursed also is the artist that desperately wants to be immortal; someone who is intent on leaving a legacy.
Because in less ambitious hands, this would’ve been a better movie.
The Uttama Villain review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have an advertising relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.