Uttama Villain, an Uttama movie

I don’t normally watch Tamil movies because, in my opinion, they either drag out on and on, or they have an impeccably predictable storyline that goes like this: song, talk, fight, emotion, song, talk, fight, emotion- with few attempts at hopeless humor thrown in desperation. These kinds of movies sell, having appealed to the masses (and the older generation in my family i.e. anyone older than me) but I never appreciate them as movies, only as cheap ways of killing time.

However, I accompanied my family to the latest Tamil movie releasing on the big screen: ‘Uttama Villain’ starring an actor whom I now very much respect: Kamal Hassan, and directed by Ramesh Aravind.

The official 'Uttama Villain' poster
The official ‘Uttama Villain’ poster

Hassan plays a film super star named Manoranjan, who is worshipped by his audience (kind of like Tamil film star Rajinikant today). He is referred to as the ‘king of entertainment’ (also like Rajinikant). By the way, Manoranjan means entertainment! Unfortunately however, he has been identified to have Class 4 brain cancer (not like Rajinikant, I hope), and, as his end is near, he wants to end his movie career with a bang. Rather than his audience shedding tears of anguish, with his last movie, he wants them to shed tears of laughter. He makes a comedy. Its name is Uttama Villain.

In order to do this, Manoranjan seeks the help of the director Margadarshi (meaning ‘the shower of the right path), who is played by the veteran highly esteemed late Tamil director K. Balachander, who was the one who actually introduced Kamal Hassan in the movie world. In a way, it mirrors the real life mentor-mentee relationship between actor and director!

K. Balachander
K. Balachander

In brief, this is a movie within a movie. The larger pathos and sorrow of the real world looms above, while the quirkiness and vibrant nature of our imagination is depicted in the movie that Manoranjan creates. Although the film starts of a bit slow, and some music would have helped to ease the monotony in the beginning, the well-written script develops, adding layers of feeling as it progresses.

The songs are both catchy and enhance the depth of the scenes. The intriguing thing is that they aren’t the typical groovy songs we’ve come to associate with mainstream Tamil films. They are more traditional, more rooted in folklore, and strangely, especially for a kid like me, are more appealing.

The set design and the camera work are good. I saw some pretty unique and interesting shots in the movie (a mirror acted as a center and equally balanced the reflection of a character). The make-up is spot on, especially for the dances. The dialogues are a blend of both modern-day spoken Tamil, used in the main movie, and old Tamil, used in the movie that Manoranjan creates. The old Tamil may be a bit hard for those who are not fluent in the language to understand each word, but, thankfully, the gist of what is being said is made clear by their gestures and over-exuberant expressions.

The way humor has been used in the story is really cool- sometimes subtle, and sometimes in-your-face. And peculiarly, there is no slapstick comedy at all. The wit is only depicted through expressions, or emerges through dialogues. Its not dirty, its like a cartoon. It’s simple and clean.

And, let me just say this: Kamal Hassan is an incredible actor. He acts with finesse, he dances with grace (and an occasional wobble), and I’ve heard he sings too. He directs movies. He writes screenplays. He is a bucket-load of creative energy, so much so I wonder how his old body can carry such weight!

Kamal Hassan- in all his glory
Kamal Hassan- in all his glory

I was initially a bit skeptical about there being three heroines (including Manoranjan’s wife) in the movie, two of whom being considerably younger than Kamal Hassan. I mean, can’t everyone agree that a romance between a sixty year old man and a twenty five year old woman looks a little… unnatural. Creepy, even. But, thankfully, the movie didn’t focus on this aspect as much as it did on the others. And the relationship between Manoranjan and his three women is one of love, not lust.

Overall, I feel this movie is a unique balance of humor and poignancy. We all know the real world is, most of the time, a hard, sorrowful place full of angst, bitterness, and the notion of every man for himself. But, if you look at the world through a new set of eyes, it can turn into something wonderful. Movies, films can help you achieve that. They can transport you to a different world. Be it Lord of the Rings or Die Hard or Big Hero 6, which thrill us. Blood Diamond or The Imitation Games, which touch our hearts. Inception, The Dark Knight, which make us think and marvel. Or Interstellar, which just confuses the hell out of us.

Be it of any language, movies are amazing. They provide people with an escape route from their own problems. ‘Uttama Villain’ showed us this happening on the screen. It’s one of the nuances that make the film remarkable.

But all said and done, it’s a Tamil movie. People are expecting mainstream mass-appeal, especially from a personality like Kamal Hassan. And gosh, I sure hope fanatics don’t drag this movie down.


Die Hard (1988) Review

Die Hard.

Before I watched this movie, the phrase brought to mind images of my friend shouting this out while zapping me with a fake laser gun while playing ‘Space Cowboys’ when I was nine. After watching the movie, the images remain the same, except in place of my friend is the balding Bruce Willis. And I zap him.

Die Hard or Die Hair?
Die Hard or Die Hair?

This movie is supposed to be one of the all time great action blockbusters, and, with my thirst for movies ever-growing, it was on my list of must watch movies.

For those who don’t know the plot- a terrorist gang led by Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman, for younger readers, Severus Snape from Harry Potter) takes over the Nagatomi Corporation building in L.A during a Christmas Eve party. Gruber and his henchman plan to steal 6oo million dollars from the Nagatomi high-tech safe, while pretending to be politically motivated to throw the authorities (who seem to have anger management issues and are incredibly easy to fool) off track. Being the psychopathic maniac that he is, he also plans to leave no hostage alive. All said and done, New York cop (who, after this movie, becomes the iconic, heroic yet bloody stupid New York cop) John McLane has come to visit his estranged wife Holly, who is incidentally one of the hostages. And so, this strange hero, who only knows how to speak in expletives, armed with his handgun, and an are-you-kidding-me-the-world-is-so-cruel attitude, with a complete disregard for local authorities, decides to take on the bad guys.

The official Die Hard poster
The official Die Hard poster

There is not a lot to say about this movie. The beginning is boring. Alan Rickman turns out to be a fairly formidable antagonist through great acting effort, while Bruce Willis struggles to do so, and manages slight grimaces throughout the film. Most of the dialogues are ineffably bad, while one became iconic (Yippee ki-Yay m*****f*****) . And, I’m not sure if this was a mistake in the movie or done deliberately, but McLane’s vest turns from white to military brown halfway into the movie!

Yet, if you move past this, i.e. if you struggle to move past this, the movie gains good pace. The plot may not have been spectacular or intricate, but it is well thought out. The action effects (the explosions, and the blood splattering when people get shot) are fancy and gritty. And, I may be wrong, but I think that this movie may have been the first of its kind to introduce African Americans as intelligent, thinking characters.

This is John McLane’s epic jump off the roof- one of the really cool action sequences…

Overall, as the movie progressed, I grew to like John McLane. He was foolish, dumb, sassy, expressionless and incorrigibly jumping into danger, but he was a cool guy. The film made me root for the hero and hate the bad guy, without the protagonist-antagonist contradictions in today’s ‘modern’ movies (kind of like your typical Tamil movie!). When the villain died a fitting death, I was scared to bits at the magnitude (he falls from a thirty storey building), but there was a sick satisfaction bubbling at the surface. (A little known fact: for his death scene, Alan Rickman agreed to fall onto an airbag 25 feet below on the count of three. Except the director and the stunt director, cruel as they were, thought they would get a better reaction if they dropped him on the count of ‘one’. Hence, the amazing expression of terror on his face!)

In conclusion, Die Hard is how any ‘good guy saves the day’ movie should be. No wonder it received exceptional reviews from critics.The movie isn’t as slick as modern action movies, but it is nice- a nice bumbling mess of mayhem, in which McLane refuses to give up and be killed – a diehard survivor.