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Upperstall Review



Official Site



Malayalam, Historical Drama, 2011, Color

Urumi is set in the backdrop of the fierce warrior clans of Northern Kerala in the sixteenth century and focuses on Chirakkal Kelu Nayanar (Prithviraj) - a man with an epic mission. His mission is to kill Dom Vasco da Gama, the Viceroy of Portuguese Empire in India. In his journey, Kelu has to encounter the seemless conflicts within the kinsmen and also Kings, ministers, peasants and a warring Muslim warrior princess Ayesha (Genelia D'Souza) of the famed Arackal Sultanat. Kelu has a forte, a legendary golden Urumi, specially made from the left over ornaments of the dead women and children who were burnt alive in the massacre of a Mecca Ship, Miri, commanded to be set on fire and drowned by Vasco da Gama during his second visit to Kerala in AD 1502. Kelu is supported by Vavvali, (Prabhu Deva), his childhood friend and in a way his elder brother, though he comes from the Muslim neighborhood. Kelu tracks his mission through the wily roads of treachery, treason and a hidden passion to create his own army - an army of the people - against the mighty Empire. His action in creating an organized revolt becomes the first of its kind movement against the first Colonial Advance in India.

"The martial art stunts in Oru Vadakkan Veeragaatha (One Northern Mini Epic) are pathetic", I had told Mammootty, when I met the great actor, last December; "Do you realize that you've missed doing for Kalaripayattu what Bruce Lee did for Kung Fu?" "Bruce Lee is a martial artiste. I am not", Mammootty smiled modestly; "I am only an actor." I wonder what Prithviraj will say when I ask him a similar question; as a warrior in Urumi, he's an utter disaster.

The urumi, a sword whose blade closely resembles a clock spring, is one of the traditional and most treasured weapons of the deadly martial art called Kalaripayattu. Thus, in a battle film named after this weapon, it is expected that the actors possess, at least, a rudimentary knowledge of its usage. Shockingly, what the audience gets to see is Prithviraj (and Genelia D'Souza!) fancily swishing an urumi like a child playing with a yoyo. At other times, Prithviraj leaps into the air and swings his urumi like a cowboy throwing a lasso. Only in one scene in the entire film does he actually attempt to use it the way it's practically effective, but he does it so awkwardly that it's a surprise that that scene wasn't cut out and thrown into the cans. The urumi, to the best of my knowledge, is supposed to be paired with a shield, though it is remotely possible that some warriors may have preferred two urumis instead, one in each hand. Prithviraj jumps into the thick of battle sans body armor, and holding nothing in his left hand.

To add to the ridiculousness, at times, he takes on an entire army using only a single knife. Rambo? Talking of battle scenes, there's one in which two sides come face to face. One has a front row of angry cannons. From a long distance, the other rides right into the line of fire on horseback, armed with only swords. Any guesses on who wins?

With his imposing height and built; long hair; unshaven face; and rough, commanding voice, however, Prithviraj cuts quite a macho figure. Almost every female is bound to drool over him. And almost every male would like to dream of being like him. He looks every bit a warrior lord. And is a quite a master too in overpowering his enemies with his bare hands employing a range of arm locks. The sad part is that from his waist down he's stiffer than a corpse. The footwork plays a very important role in Kalaripayattu, and each style has its own steps. Prithviraj's character in the film claims to have learned from several gurus. But it's obvious that the actor hasn't quite got the hang of this martial art. He raises and stamps his feet on the ground laboriously like an elephant walking in a mud field.

On the other hand, his sidekick, Prabhu Deva, agile, and possessing a body capable of twisting into odd positions, puts up a delightful martial show; his comic antics are genuinely funny. Genelia with her lovely smile provides sweet moments, and it's quite amusing to watch even her clumsy martial movements. Nithya Menon carries herself royally. And Jagathy Sreekumar with his feminine gestures and scheming eyes and grin is a study in shadiness.

The song-dance sequences are pulsating, and provide welcome breaks. However, the sound effects and music over seem rationed, and the lack of ambience sounds creates a crystal clear atmosphere that's a little shallow. The script has a variety of spice, and the dialogues are heavy. Quite unnecessarily, though, the term 'parangi' (derogatory Malayalam variation of 'firang') is repeated, venomously, maybe a hundred times, or more.

Similar to Titanic, this period film opens with a group of characters in the modern day, and a women's voice-over takes us into the past. The actor who plays Vasco Da Gama has a cackle very similar to that of Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter. And some parts appear to be vaguely inspired by Braveheart. Still, Santosh Sivan, it's good to see you bring Hollywood lighting, and other standard cinematic techniques, such as slow motion battle scenes, sweeping camera movements, and low angle shots that enlarge the characters, to regional cinema. I also, in particular, liked very much your idea of using the same main cast for the modern day and the period scenes.

And yes, hats off to you for succeeding in blasting the lids off the box office at both the single-screen and the multiplex theaters. But, frankly, it's disappointing to see someone as eminent as you trivialize our sacred martial art, which the firangs, when they ruled India, banned, out of sheer fear.

- Dalton L





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