Director : Ramesh Aravind Cast: Kamal Haasan, Jayaram, K. Balachander, K. Viswanath, Urvashi, Andrea Jeremiah, Nassar

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It is known by now, that people who have been closely following Kamal Haasan, his films, his personal and professional life, can better enjoy this movie. But there is something more you have to know. If you classify Kamal films of the recent past, you end up with serious, well made films on one side and light hearted comedies involving artists like Nasser, Vyapuri, Ramesh Aravind, Jeyraam, K.S.Ravikumar, Urvasi, Crazy Mohan and few others from Kamal’s circle, on the other side. Though Uthama Villain, at first sight, feels like a film that belongs to the second category, it isn’t really a light hearted, casual comedy. It has more to offer.
(The reason behind such a misconception can be attributed to the way the film has been promoted right from the day the shooting kicked off- a teaser that looked like one strongly glorifying Kamal’s ‘mass image’, the next teaser resembling the old ‘Nijaam Paaku’ advertisement, a trailer that was cut just like any other usual, average family drama from Tamil cinema)

Strengths
The characters and their characterization, not to forget, the choice and performances actors who were chosen for those roles. Though it is a film mostly revolving around Kamal Haasan, sincere work put into shaping up the other characters had led to it becoming a highly engaging affair. Watch closely, and you’ll find that the characters are not really what you see when they are first introduced. A few moments later, you realize they are entirely different persons, and those moments when characters reveal their real self are emotional. There are many such moving moments and sometimes characters take more than one steep turn.

The crew
In general, there is this misconceived image on Kamal films. Any brilliance noticed in any department of a film starring Kamal- by default, everything is attributed to him. Right from setting the lights in place for the shot to cutting wood for the sets, it is Kamal Haasan!

Hold your breath, and let those crew members have some credit. In Uthama Villain, it is editor Vijay Shankar who has to be credited for its aesthetic brilliance. Though it is a film dealing with heavy emotions, it has come out with a subtle treatment, avoiding too much melodrama. In such a film, the way the editor manages to hold the attention of the audience with those imperceptible, sometimes sharp cuts and a tinge of thrill in the right places is magical. The scene where the family discusses on breaking the news to Uravsi is an example. Also, the editor’s sheer brilliance rules the moments every time the film changes track smoothly between Uthaman and Manoranjan portions.

It is said that Kamal Haasan uses scenes from his film ‘Heyram’ in those screenplay workshops he holds, to give notes on details of screenplay and art direction. Hereafter he has one more film to add scenes from. Such are the semiotics, screenplay details, creative use of sound and aesthetic beauty. (The scene where Manoranjan watches his children from outside through a window, for example)

Cinematography offers us pure cinema experience, with perfectly lit scenes and consistent visual quality, standing tall and ahead of the usual stage drama style-cinematography of Tamil cinema (in this style, even the camera angles resemble the point of view of audience in a stage drama).

Minus production designer Lalgudi Ilayaraja (the film’s uncompromised production value is one of its prime strengths), most of the names on the crew are not much known ones in Kollywood. Even Ghibran is an upcoming music composer. Though songs didn’t make the audience stay in, Ghibran wins it with the highly mature background music that succeeds in lifting the emotional scenes in the film. Finally, Kamal Haasan has found a non-Ilayaraja, non-Rahman composer for his crew who can understand better the traits and content of Tamil films.

The two parts
To understand the above mentioned things better, it is advised you divide the film into two parts. In fact, the film has already done it by itself. All those compliments on aesthetics and elegance are to be attributed only to the ‘Manoranjan’ part (except the scene involving Kamal and Andrea in a car. Though its depth and importance are strong, the dialogues, visualization and the driver’s acting look heavily clichéd and dramatic. There also seems to be some problem with sound in this scene).

You can find only faults all along the ‘Uthaman’ part. Except the people and a few things around them, everything is computer generated. And those computer graphics look like ones even your kids would laugh continuously at. You can also see neatly cut, chemical-polished granite tiles on the floors, in a story set 1000 years ago.
Animals play an integral part of the screenplay in the ‘Uthaman’ portions. But all you can see once again are computer generated dolls, which look like the ones you see in cartoons, spoiling the intensity of the scenes. Though this might be an effect of stringent rules on using animals in films, compared to the budget of the film, its production quality and the technology available, that is no excuse.

Maybe that is why, not even a pet dog is shown on screen in the ‘Manoranjan’ portions. You can feel the intense care taken, that not even a peck of blemish is noticed in those portions. Or is it all a sarcastic take on the quality of graphics, sets and visualization of Tamil cinema? However, isn’t it shown in the film that the ‘Uthaman’ portions are indeed shot by a renowned filmmaker of Tamil cinema?

The scenes involving Uthaman are interesting and funny for the first few minutes. The slapstick humor tried out by Kamal frequently reminds us of Nagesh. But, few scenes into the film, post interval, the usual Kamal ‘intellectual elements’ begin dominating the character, Pooja Kumar starts acting like a debutant performing on a school annual day, and the portion that was so far only technically weak, collapses entirely. Thereafter, every second the painful wait continues for the scenes to switch over to Manoranjan’s story. The only relief being that these two portions finally connect well towards the climax.

Otherwise, Uthama Villain has a lot to offer you, for an artistic satisfaction. There is no villain in the film. The conflict of the film lying in the characterizations, the psychological faces people have and the intricacies in life make it unique. Ironically, ‘Uthaman’ is the villain. The Kamal Haasan-Ramesh Aravind duo is the ‘hero’, for having made a film without the slightest deviation of realism, without imposing sympathy, with exquisite film language, technical and aesthetic panache.

The Kamal factor
The reason for the ‘Manoranjan’ portion not ending up irritating us is the character’s resemblance in every aspect to the actor playing the role. Usually, any Kamal Haasan film, made with sublime efforts whatsoever, will end up having factors irritating the neutral audience, thanks to the compulsive Kamal heroics, disguised egotism, genius and much more. Also there is an impression of the ‘Kamal image’ dominating the characters he plays. However, this time, since Kamal Haasan directly plays himself (named Manoranjan), all those shortcomings mentioned above blend into the cause. With the likes of K.Balachander and K.Viswanath playing equally important roles, the Tamil audience has a lavish feast offered. It can also be seen as an effort of self-examination or a retrospective film from Kamal Haasan.

(Though the first song in the film ‘Single Kisske loveaaa…’ is portrayed in a way bashing the silly elements and clichés of Tamil cinema, the audience still looks at it seriously and thoroughly enjoys every moment of it. This song is also used as the promotional element for the film, played on television every 10 minutes.)

This film is for…
It is definitely not for audience looking for the wholesome commercial entertainer. Even the ‘Manoranjan’ portion may end up boring for people expecting a usual Tamil film. So, forget the part of ‘Uthaman’. The film is a treat for audience expecting a different, artistic, philosophical, emotional experience. The film’s strength lies in the way emotional scenes have been handled without much exaggeration, at the same time with a gripping musical experience. It is certain for you to leave the cinema hall in the end with a heavy heart but a clear vision on life.

It is very clear that Kamal Haasan can easily make/write a film that can compete with any contemporary film from the world, but the mystery lies in why he never completely transforms the efforts, including Uthama Villain. It could’ve easily turned out to be a world class film, if only…
if only…
if only…
if only…

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About Author

Mahesh Raghavan

Mahesh Raghavan is a film buff and independent short filmmaker from Chennai. His interest for films of all genres and languages has grown over the years. One film a day is his thumb rule.

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