From an emotional role in ‘Soorarai Pottru’ to a comical one in ‘Mookuthi Amman’, Urvashi has stolen the show in several recent OTT releases.

A stylised picture of Urvashi in Mookuthi Amman and Soorarai PottruUrvashi in Mookuthi Amman and Soorarai Pottru
Flix Cinema Wednesday, November 18, 2020 - 17:55

When Varane Avashyamundu released earlier this year in theatres, most of the movie’s posters featured the four lead actors – Suresh Gopi, Shobana, Dulquer Salman and Kalyani Priyadarshan. The movie was promoted as the comeback vehicle for Suresh Gopi and Shobana. Urvashi played only an extended cameo in the movie. But perhaps the best scene of the movie was when Urvashi sits opposite Kalyani Priyadarshan in a restaurant, holds her hands and says, “This wedding will not happen. I thought my son was like me. But he’s like his father. It’s better that you don’t come into our family”.

While passing a subtle yet important message in Varane Avashyamundu, director Anoop Sathyan perhaps could not have found anyone better than Urvashi to make the scene emotional and memorable at the same time. Like it has happened most times throughout her career, Urvashi has come in, done her job and walked away with the best work in a movie – all silently.

This has been the hallmark of Urvashi’s career. When she made a comeback through Achuvinte Amma in 2005, she won the National Award for Best Supporting Actress. But it is surprising how this fact is less celebrated or discussed like most other awards! She was returning after a break of 6 years, but it never felt like she was away from the camera. When she puts on a serious face and explains in her broken English to her daughter how to cook (who can forget the “kaduvara, kaduvara” lines), she leaves you in splits. When she finally says bye to Meera Jasmine but with another new kid in her hands, you cannot help but end the movie in tears.

A scene from Achuvinte Amma
Aravindante Athidhikal (2018) is another example where the movie’s main storyline revolves around Vineeth Sreenivasan, Shanthi Krishna and Nikhila Vimal. But it is Urvashi as Nikhila’s mother who leaves the most impact on viewers irrespective of her short screen time, mainly thanks to her immaculate comic timing. How she keeps describing her husband to others or the interactions with her brother (Premkumar) are among the most enjoyable scenes in the movie.

Phenomenal range

Born to parents who are drama actors and debuting as a child artist at the age of 8, Urvashi got a break as a heroine in 1983 in K Bhagyaraj’s Tamil movie Munthanai Mudichu. In Malayalam, she holds the record for most Kerala state awards, winning five times. She has also won the award three consecutive years – 1989 (Mazhavil Kavadi, Varthamanakalam), 1990 (Thalayanamanthram), and 1991 (Bharatham, Mukhachithram, Kadinjool Kalyanam, Kakkathollayiram). These performances alone speak about the great range she possesses.

In Thalayanamthram, Urvashi has an innocent face when she tells Parvathi that she doesn’t have any interest whatsoever in gold ornaments. The next scene she walks to Sreenivasan and says she wants a similar ornament. You are amused both by the character’s ability to lie with a straight face and Urvashi’s ability to be that character so flawlessly.

A scene from Thalayanamanthram
In Kadinjool Kalyanam, it’s all the build-up and the havoc that Urvashi creates on screen about the missing suitcase, which amplifies the impact of the twist when she actually opens the suitcase. The manner in which she takes out the brush she used as a child and asks “how’s it” is a frame for ages. You could go back to this scene and have a nice laugh any day. Small or negative roles did not matter to the actor even at the start of her career as she portrayed Snehalatha, the woman who betrays the village goldsmith and gets away with the gold ornament with aplomb in Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu.

In the meanwhile, her hilarious act in Michael Madana Kama Rajan (1990) proved to be a big break in Tamil cinema. She ventured to comedy again in Magalir Mattum (1994) as Janaki, one of the three ladies fight back against their troubling misogynistic manager, and won the Tamil Nadu state award. In a recent interview with Baradwaj Rangan for Film Companion, she reminisces about how impressed Kamal Haasan was during the Michael Madana Kama Rajan shooting days that he told her how very few female actors are as good as her in comedy. Years later, she still remains a strong force in comedy.

Urvashi scores equally well when it comes to moving viewers to tears. The naïve wife and daughter-in-law in Sthreedhanam (1993) is almost at the other end of the spectrum when compared to Snehalatha in Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu. Malayalam actor Nandhu in an interview spoke about how a scene from 1991’s Bharatham has always stunned him. Mohanlal is about to pause and tear up in between the Ramakadha song. But he has to continue to make sure the family doesn’t learn about his brother’s death. He looks at Urvashi for assurance and Urvashi tries to cheer him up with a thumbs-up gesture, a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. Nandhu said that he has tried to mimic Urvashi and enact that scene in front of a mirror so many times. But he admits that he keeps failing.

Aging like fine wine as a performer

We have seen the skills of the greatest of the actors and stars from the 90’s fade as the years have passed. As you age, it’s tough for one to keep up with the same level of energy or comic timing that was once sharp. But one of Urvashi’s most striking features is how her skills, especially comic timing, are not only intact, but may have even gotten better with age. It is to her credit that even when most filmmakers have still not given her fully etched out roles or enough screen time, she still manages to make the most of it.

In Mummy and Me (2010), when her daughter scolds her, she stands by her husband helplessly, unable to talk back. In Manjadikuru (2012), she talks to her sister about her lost love and tells her: “You’ve to love whom you get, if you don’t get whom you love”. In Ente Ummante Peru (2018), she feels possessive of Hamid (Tovino Thomas), helps him find his birth mother but admits to him that she did not want to leave him. The characters from different backgrounds, with different accents and different traits. But Urvashi just keeps adapting as the years pass by. It finally needed an exceptionally brilliant year in 2020 for us to finally stand and applaud her.

A scene from Ente Ummante Peru
Ruling OTT releases in Tamil cinema in 2020

In 2020, as she turned 51, Urvashi followed Varane Avashyamundu with another fine act in the short segment Ilamai Idho Idho in the Tamil movie Putham Pudhu Kaalai. One of the most adorable moments of the short is when Urvashi hides in a wardrobe with a cup of coffee in her hand and how the reactions on her face change as she listens to the father and daughter talking in the bedroom. She beautifully depicts the vulnerable side of a middle-aged woman who falls in love again when she tells Jayaram: “I don’t remember the last time someone offered me tea. Then how can I not like you?”

Then comes the two Diwali special OTT releases this month – Soorarai Pottru and Mookuthi Amman. As Pechi in Soorarai Pottru, her biggest wish in life is that her son and husband talk and reconcile. When Maara is unable reach on time when her husband is on his deathbed, she breaks down on seeing him in what is a fantastic scene. As a director, you need such great actors to make sure you can stretch an emotional scene so far. To director Sudha Kongara’s advantage, not only does Suriya give his career best performance, she also has Urvashi who complements him well or performs even better. When Urvashi throws paper pieces at her son and recites the lines about her son from her husband’s letter, it becomes the scene of the year.

It’s easy to peg her role in Mookuthi Amman as another “hero’s mother” on paper. But her body language, mannerisms, behaviour are poles apart from the regular mother on screen, as the actor returns to her hilarious best. A particularly “laugh out loud” sequence is when she explains how she has tried to visit Tirupathi so many times with her kids over the years but hurdles keep coming up. The expression on her face when the trip gets cancelled each time is the kind of improvisation that only a fine actor can bring over and above the screenplay. Another superbly done comedy scene is when RJ Balaji asks her from where she’ll get the money to visit Tirupathi. The ‘Baasha paaru’ song starts in the background and Urvashi does a Rajini style transformation.

A scene from Mookuthi Amman

In another sequence from Mookuthi Amman, Urvashi talks to her kids about her hardships as a single mother and you empathise with her. The very next moment, she brings in the trip to Tirupathi as a solution to all their problems and the emotional tone changes to comical in no time. What is even more amazing is, as revealed in the Film Companion interview, apparently Balaji gave dialogue sheets to all actors except Urvashi. He just gave her the situation and she would come up with lines and expressions on the fly.

How does Urvashi do this, that too consistently for years? Chances are we’ll forget about all this before it’s time for another movie where you won’t see or hear about her in posters or promotions. But once the movie releases, she might be the one walking away with the honours yet again.

Fahir studied BTech and works in a multinational company. He loves writing on movies and cricket as a hobby.