Summary: Technically brilliant, historically inaccurate, well-packaged fantasy tale of a man on a singular mission — to kill Vasco da Gama.
What I liked
- Packaging: Movies set against a historical backdrop can quickly turn into documentaries, and thus risk putting audiences to sleep. At times, the audience might choose to entirely shun such a movie without even making an effort to understand it; case in point: Hey Ram. I presume therefore that the prime question that would have confronted the makers of Urumi must have been around striking the balance between fact and fantasy. There is no right answer to this. They could have chosen to please the art house crowd and the dabblers in history (yours truly would like to believe that he belongs to both categories). Or they could have chosen to play entirely to the galleries (mind you, the movie was made on a big budget). Urumi’s success rests on this intricate balance, and one must commend the writers for believing in the adage “The perfect is the enemy of the good”, for I found the movie impressive on multiple levels.
- Cinematography: Of course, it is a Santosh Sivan movie. How else could it have turned out? One could watch the movie just for the lush green scenery. (The dialogue, “Enga Simran akka nadikka kooda vendaam. Avanga poster-aye naanellaam rendara manineram paarthukitruppen!” comes to mind.)
- Casting: Expanded below.
- Prithviraj – Prabhudeva duo: Prithviraj excelled as Kelu Nayanar, but Prabhudeva as his friend Vavvali was, I thought, a casting coup. The reasons are obvious. Kelu has but one objective, on which he maintains a laser-sharp focus. In this sense, he is like a samurai, wherefore emotions are alien to his task, and by extension, to his nature. Vavvali, while valiant and supportive of Kelu’s mission, is essentially a lighthearted person, and displays a lot more sensitivity. The character could have easily been framed as just a sidekick, but the screenwriter must be thanked for giving it depth. The movie enhanced my respect for Prabhudeva’s acting skills.
- Genelia: Genelia D’Souza plays Arackal Ayesha, a princess who, like Kelu, wants to avenge her father’s death, her target being da Gama’s son, Estevao. And just like Kelu, Ayesha portrays just one emotion — anger — and Genelia brings this out through her expressive eyes. While her on-screen time is considerable, her dialogues are comparatively fewer. But who cares… this is Genelia!
- The supporting cast, notably Jagathy Sreekumar, Nithya Menon, Arya in two delightful cameos, the person playing Chirakkal Thamburan and both the da Gamas, pere and fils.
- Songs: The good ones, at least. Though the movie has many songs, I can recall only two that were long. I was particularly impressed by the number of genres the songs touched upon. Kudos to the composer. My personal favorite is the delectable Chinni Chinni Minni Thilangunaa, sung by Manjari.
What could have been better
- Screenplay: This should really be filed under the “What I liked” section as well. The movie can be split into three segments – the first hour which introduces the plot, the characters and their motivations. This part moves at breakneck speed and was the one I liked best. One can sense the drop in pace over the next 45 minutes to an hour, as the story meanders. At least one song (featuring Vidya Balan as an oracle) could have been omitted. The pace then picks up for the climax, but it still doesn’t equal the first hour.
- Background score: Was good in parts, but I had the distinct feeling that Ilaiyaraja would have had a field day with this kind of movie, and would have made a number of scenes stand out even more.
- Factual inaccuracies: I have a list that is longer than this review, but I’m not going to belabor this as I appreciate the constraints the filmmakers must have had to operate under.
I have not watched Pazhassi Raja yet, so I cannot compare it to Urumi, but I must state that the latter is one of the better movies I have watched in recent times. Even if you are like me and have only a fleeting knowledge of Malayalam, the movie is still worth a watch. Highly recommended!