Urumi Review – A Saga of Cinematographic Proportions

  • DirectorSantosh Sivan
  • Cast – Prithviraj Sukumaran, Prabhu Deva, Genelia D’Souza, Jagathi Sreekumar, Nithya Menon, Vidya Balan
  • Genre – Historical Fantasy, Action
  • Watch Because – Cinematography, Something not witnessed in Malayalam cinema before
  • Dont Watch Because – Watch, but it is not a wholesome movie.
  • Rating – ♥♥♥1/2 out of 5
  • VERDICT – A totally fresh and never-seen-before offering, with the Santhosh Sivan stamp all over it! Watch it, for the timeless story, dazzling presentation, engrossing music, brilliant action and fresh concept

Urumi stands out like a colossus among today’s formula movies of chest-beating superhuman heroes, made and played to the audience only to please so-called fans. And that is why Urumi is a must watch, because it is different, fresh, clean and a feast for the senses. No pretensions. No jingoism. No jeering dialogues. And offers some awesome acting by Jagathi Sreekumar and Genelia D’Souza, but does have it’s really big shortcomings, the characters and story is not given attention or the time to develop. Urumi is not a Braveheart or LOTR, but it will seduce you, captivate you and mesmerize you with it’s sheer brilliance of visual presentation by the stunning capture of natural visuals, characters and their mannerisms, by way of camera alone without any intruding technological support. Mostly.

STORY LINE, THE BEGINNING (No Spoilers)

The movie is a fantasy. It does not hark to real historical occurrences or people, especially the protagonists. Well, maybe. The core story of the movie is a flash back depiction of 16th century events narrated in the 21st century. Krishna Das (Prithviraj) and his friend (Prabhudeva) arrive in Malabar to sell off his ancestral land of pristine forests populated by tribals, to an MNC for mining rights, where are abducted at gun-point and taken deep into the jungle. Das is led into a stone-chamber and meets a weird tribal who asks him if he know who his ancestors were, 5 generations ago. Das looks flabbergasted, so he pulls out a bundle of palm leaves – thaaliyolas (no, I spelled it right. It was you who read it wrong :P) in which are recorded sagas about the life and deeds of people of bygone, heroes and heroines who lived and died in that land… including Krishna Das’ ancestors. He starts reading out the deeds of Das’ ancestors, who they were, how he was tied t this land. (All people living today are re-incarnations of people who lived in the 1500s)

1502. Vasco Da Gama is on his second journey to Kerala, and the Portuguese (Parankis) have already gained a foothold in the land, murdering, looting and raping at will. Chirackkal Kothuvaal (Arya) is a no-nonsense, brave and able warrior of the Chirakkal family, a man of values and principles. Da Gama captures a ship returning with pilgrims from Mecca, and Kothuval tries for a truce sending his 8-year old son (Kelu), but Gama says no cigar and blows up the ship. Kothuvaal manages to get aboard Gama’s ship, kills several people and maims Gama cutting off his little finger, before being surrounded and shot. Kelu escapes and swims ashore, where to his horror finds the beach littered with corpses of people who died when the ship was blown up, and among them, a bag of ornaments which the captives were trying to offer Gama to secure their release.  He picks it up and sits shivering and in shock on the beach when Vayyali, a Tamilian boy living with his poor mother finds him. They take him in, and Kelu eventually gets all the gold molten and cast into an Urumi – A deadly 2 meter long flexible sword, which was his fathers favorite weapon as well. He vows to avenge the killing of his father by slaying Vasco Da Gama with it.

Fast forward 22 years, and Kelu is Chirakkal Kelu Naayanaar (Prithviraj), and Vavvali (Prabhudeva) is his closest companion, the two are always together. Proficient warriors, they roam the 16th century Malabar countryside – always wet, soggy, misty and forested. Kelu is serious, drawn out, does not speak much, but when he does is monosyllabic or short sentenced. Vavvali on the other hand is more extroverted, open, speaks a lot and laughs a lot. Kelu still has only one thing in mind – kill Vasco Da Gama. Then a chance encounter with a princess from the Chirakkal family and an ambush, he learns that Da Gama is coming to Kerala a third time..

Will they achieve their goal? How can they get to Gama? Who are the maidens? What all hardships will he face? What are the politics he will have to undergo? Who are the traitors? Or will they fail in their mission like the last standing chaaver chekavar of the last Mamamkam? The movie forms the rest of the story.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE MOVIE

Camera Angles are to Santosh Sivan what explosions are to Michael Bay. It looks like serious thought, analysis and dissection have gone into every shot, frame and sequence in this movie, and Urumi comes across as a cinematographic experiment. In fact, the focus and attention to cinematography seems to be so total that all other aspects of the movie look somewhat neglected, like the Story and Screenplay for instance. The story does not seem to have a fixed flow, meanders along, and is confusing most of the time, the screenplay lacks continuity and looks totally disconnected from the beginning when it reaches the end. And is full of holes, just like the story. The presence of some of the characters in the movie is neither explained or justified, and what some of the characters do does not make sense at all. Something which I really liked though, were the taut, crisp and to the point dialogues, sans cliches, jingoism and overbearing heroism.

Also, it is incredible how many themes the movie manages to cram into itself in it running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Other than the core story of ‘son-seeking-revenge-for-father’s-murder theme and the old story of conquest by sword vs. the new age story of conquest by paper and rights, the story line includes, on and off: historical narrations, a socio-political background overview of the 1500s, two romances, the famous feud between the two Malabar families, a confusing item number, patriotism, freedom struggle, religious harmony and and so on. Most of these are subtly weaved into the proceedings with the camera doing the talking, but some stand out like a sore thumb, some do not make sense. And this is exactly the reason it does not qualify to be a great movie.

ARTISTES AND THEIR CHARACTERS

Talking about the actors, starting with one of the most under rated stars in Malayalam ever: Jagathi Sreekumar. Scaling new heights as the scheming minister Chenjeri Kuruppu, he has a feminine look around him, which he suddenly changes at the end of the movie. The scene where he shows the imbecile king-to-be how to smile – he says “Mandahaasam” and his lips curve into a sagacious smile with his facial expression changing dramatically – is Oscar worthy, and leaves us to think “If only Malayalam cinema had utilized this great talent better!” This movie again confirms what I had tweeted once:

Prithviraj excels to a large degree at his role of Chirakkal Kelu Naayanaar, and I am happy that he has not played to the audience as fan-fodder and has delivered what is required for the film. He towers over every other character in the film, speaks volumes through one-sentence dialogues and his screen presence is total. But that intensity to go along with his mannerisms does not appear in his eyes or in his body language, looks straitjacketed. He but is good as the naive Krishna Das. But this will surely be a turning point in his career. Kudos!

Prabhudeva still is the Prabudeva of the old. His moves are graceful the dancer he is, and he effortlessly switches from romance to comedy to seriousness to ferocious with the least effort. His playful mannerisms and happy go lucky attitude is totally opposite to what Prithviraj is, and the chemistry between them is awesome.

However, the movie belongs to Genelia D’Souza. She is intense, ferocious, and almost smolders on the screen as Arackkal Ayesha, the maiden who slayed 29 Portuguese who tried to outage her modesty, that you can literally see the smoke. She has executed her fight scenes with total grace, and her screen presence is enormous. The only drawback I could find is, her lip movements were totally out of sync with the dubbed dialogues. As I said, no attention.

Vidya Balan confuses in the 16th Century version, with no explanation given as to what she is doing there. But her item number is still one of the best I have seen, but she totally pwns the 21st century version.

Nithya Menon is very good for a novice actor, comes across as almost childlike and innocent, her flirting with the hapless Prabhudeva with the shades of romance on her face, could be counted as some of the best moments in the movie.

Arya, in all the 10 minutes he is on screen, captures you, he is the only thing you will notice on screen. Brilliant.

CONCLUSION

The movie could have been infinite times better, the direction just does not cut it. Other than the meandering story and screenplay, some things like art direction, (the sets are far less than spectacular) could have been much better. I am not commenting about the types of dress they wore, the language they spoke, their appearance, weapons and mannerisms etc. because I have never been to the 16th century. Also, the vegetation and surroundings look much too un-Kerala. Actually reminded me of the misty forests of Northern England shown in various King Arthur-type movies. And small overlooks like the one @VineethJose mentioned here. :) And also, out-of sync lip syncing.

The story is timeless, ballads of an era when men used to live of honor and had immense strength in their backs. The music is thrilling, all the songs are hits, the action is mind blowing and the view magical and will keep you engrossed so much that you won’t even notice the shortcomings. Kudos to Santosh Sivan, and yes, Prithviraj too! You will love this epic saga if you are even a bit of a romantic at heart. As I said, with all the staleness Malayalam cinema had been experiencing recently, this movie certainly is a breath of fresh air. Go watch. And don’t miss the touching ending.

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  • Great work! Well said! Did you miss the chirakkal King’s (Amol Gupte) performance?
    Prabhu Deva’s character’s name is Vavvali.
    Fight scenes were original when similar Malayalam films are compared…
    But it could’ve been more original.. The only damage that golden URUMI could make in most instances are shallow cuts or enemies getting flown away by its lash.

    • Thank you for the comment! :)
      Have edited the review, Amol Gupte’s performance was commentable, too! :)

      Yeah, the Golden Urumi was just a prop, and was not used as anything substantial. It would have been better if the movie were centered around it rather than Prithviraj..

  • Sujeeth

    Excellent review…. !

  • Santhosh sivan is a brilliant cinematographer but not even an average film maker. They should have atleast do a little home work on costumes when doing a historical movie like urumi. The dialogue “unthunthu” told by jagathy is written by unnai warrier who lived in 17 th century where the story happens in 14-15th century. And vadakkus gold can never be made a deadly weapon unless combined with some other metal, because it’s a soft metal. How could prithwiraj melt it into an urumi. He is seen wearing jute costumes as kelu nayyanar, in reality jute is used as a clothing only by 18th century, overall it’s a bad movie with lots of flesh and a film made for and by prithwiraj.

    • Thanks for the comment! Appreciated for the mistakes pointed out! :) Yes, SS should not start making movies, he should just shoot them.

      Yes, Gold is very malleable, brittle and cannot be made into a weapon. Maybe they mixed it with some other metal? Anyways, that is just one among the numerous oversights in the movie.

      Also, I really don’t know anything about the costumes and such, and yes, ‘Unthunthu’ is a valid point.

      Also, did it rain in Kerala all the time then?

  • drwiz

    Brilliant review bro, Kudos :) And you did miss Amol Gupta, he was good too.

    • Thank You Bro! Yes, He too. Guesses I missed him. Have edited the review.

  • Excellent review. Fresh perspective. I too agree. As a viewer, it is Genelia who surpassed all expectations. She was amazing and convincing in her role.

    • Thank you! :) I was surprised too! I thought her to be good only to play the rich-spoiled-brat-dumb-blonde roles she does in Telugu movies, and uninspired roles like the one in Jaane Tu..

  • Regarding the question of gold being made into a weapon, I think it is safe to approach it as a symbolic rather than literal interpretation, almost akin to saying having the blood of people on one’s hands.

  • sunil nambiar

    I’ve noticed a mistake in Jagadi Sreekumar’s name. its Chenichery Kurup and not Chenjeri.

  • Anand

    read the review..was excellent apart from the remarks about pritviraj .. this movie was made with the idea of boosting his fan rate or marketability… as he himself said in ever contradicting interviews that this has nothing to do with the kerela history this is just a fiction.. anyways..coming back to my point..as u can see throughout the are were pritvi s shone..it s just to boost his physical appearance or his looks..even when it is during a song scene or when he is walking or as a matter of fact running around…more or less it sound similar to the movie asokha in the same back drop and lightings..in a new industry this time in malayalam..its just the same drink in a new bottle.. yeahh with new flavors..!!

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