Abhishek K. Venkitaraman
Historic fiction is a genre which is difficult to execute and can go horribly wrong if not executed well. However, Santosh Sivan manages to ace it in an almost 3-hour drama with outstanding art direction, top notch performances and a splendid script.
Released in 2012, Urumi was the most expensive Malayalam movie made at that time. Critically acclaimed, the movie won several accolades in India and won the Best Director in Imagine India Film Festival in Barcelona. No surprises here, after all its Santosh Sivan! Widely regarded as one of the defining movies of the Malayalam new wave, Urumi is a visual delight. From the very first scene, its evident that the director has given us a technical masterpiece.
With an ensemble cast of Prithviraj, Prabhu Deva, Genelia D’Souza, Nithya Menen,Vidya Balan, Amol Gupte and Arya, the film is entertaining and magical.
Story and screenplay
The movie begins with a classroom like history narration about the time when Vasco-Da-Gama invaded the coast of Malabar and the Portuguese Empire began to set its roots in India in 15th century. At the center of the story is Kelu Nayanar(Prithviraj), planning an uprising to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Vasco-Da-Gama led Portuguese army. Kelu’s weapon is a golden ‘Urumi’ which means a curved sword like weapon in Malayalam, fashioned out of the gold ornaments of Kelu’s people who were killed by the Portuguese. Over time, he is joined by an ever charming Vavvali(Prabhu Deva) and the fiery warrior princess of Arakkal: Ayesha (Genelia D’Souza). Nithya Menen plays the princess of Chirakkal: Bala, also Prabhu Deva’s love interest. The rest of the movie unfolds through the eyes of these characters as they face numerous hurdles in their plans.
At 172 minutes, the movie is a bit long, but surprisingly it never falters and keeps you hooked with new characters and stunning visuals. Urumi has one of the finest screenplays and the writing is strong.
Art Direction and Cinematography
This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the art direction. Santosh Sivan is indeed a master of his craft and here he transports us to a mystical land almost always covered in mist. From the elaborate costumes to the 15th century medieval ships, everything is well thought of, yet never feels garish. The magical images, rooted in history, grabs your attention, and keeps you fixated to your screen. The painstakingly designed costumes and ensembles befits the royal characters that the actors play and for the most part, seem appropriate for the time except a few instances. The locales look stunning and highlights the magic that a camera can create. Some frames might remind you of Santosh Sivan’s earlier works like Asoka.
Prithviraj as Kelu Nayanar is a delight to watch with his convincing action sequences and an electrifying chemistry with Prabhu Deva. Genelia D’Souza once again proves her acting mettle and sheds her bubbly image with a role of a lifetime. Nithya Menen as Chirakkal Bala puts up a fine performance and you can’t take your eyes off when she appears on the screen. However, Prabhu Deva in his semi-comical role as Vavvali stands out. Vidya Balan excels even in her limited screen time. Rest of the cast has also done a fine job and make the best out of their limited scenes. The dubbing however is bad for the actors who are not Malayalam speakers. At times, it is unbearable to watch the horrendous dubbing but again, the performances overall makeup for it.
The movie might be seen as a commentary on environmentalism and the hazards which our environment faces due to capitalism. It also emphasizes the need to be socially aware and the need to have a “social commitment”, as Vidya Balan’s character Bhoomi puts it. As much as it is about the undamaged bonds of love and friendship, it is history and environment which are the underlying themes, and the need to realize and appreciate one’s ancestry and heritage. With its double storyline, and the actors playing historical characters as well as modern day youngsters, there are many parallels between both. The International Mining corporation who has come to acquire Prithviraj’s ancestral property for mining, are the modern equivalent of the Portuguese sailors who came on the pretext of trade and went on to establish a huge empire in India for over 400 years. It shows us how greed can overpower common sense and humanity.
Even with its numerous historical inaccuracies and cinematic liberties, Urumi is entertaining, fast-paced and a cinematic grandeur that comes only in once a while.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.