This is not an attempt to slam the film for trying; it's an earnest appeal for filmmakers to think, read and research more when they do the trying, instead of lazily wetting their feet in sociopolitical issues.

Sasikumar and Jyotika in Udanpirappe poster
Flix Review Thursday, October 14, 2021 - 12:09

Era.Saravanan's Udanpirappe is the second film to release from Suriya and Jyotika's 2D Entertainment as part of the four film deal that the producers have signed with Amazon Prime Video. It also marks Jyotika's 50th film, and admittedly, it's good to see the actor trying out different roles and characters in her second innings. As the title suggests, Udanpirappe is about the bond between siblings, and is within the mould of films like Kadaikutty Singam, Namma Veetu Pillai and so on. A large family. Conflicts. Sentiments. Reunions. Udanpirappe has all of it and then some more.

Mathangi (Jyotika) and Vairavan (Sasikumar) are siblings who love each other very much. But they're not on speaking terms because Sargunam (Samuthirakani, who is so full of gunam that you feel like swatting his smug face) does not like Vairavan's violent ways of delivering justice. There's a flashback that adds another layer of explanation for this resentment. Unfortunately though, the screenplay and characterisation make the film look really dated. The scenes are stacked one after the other rather than segueing into the next. For example, a priest laments about the lost deity of a temple; a few seconds later, Jyotika is introduced as Mathangi, rising with the deity from a slushy pond. The scene with the priest solely exists to foreshadow this introduction and just looks clumsy.

While Sasikumar is wooden, Samuthirakani is robotic (the chemistry between him and Jyotika is more fraternal than what she and Sasikumar share). Sidhaarth KT, who plays Sasikumar's son, Vivek, is bereft of any expression and could have been replaced with a statue. In fact, a line mouthed by Soori, who plays their man Friday Pakkadi, sums up his performance pretty much ('I told you to smile and you're able to smile only this much, imagine!). Nivedhithaa Sathish as Keerthana, Jyotika's daughter, offers some respite. The actor manages to hold her own even if the scene is not about her.

Ever since her return to cinema, Jyotika has been keen to represent women characters with more respect on screen, and also question misogynistic dialogues and traditions. Her choice of films, from 36 Vayathinile to Magalir Mattum 2, Kaatrin Mozhi, Ponmagal Vandhal and others have reflected this desire. In Udanpirappe, too, the actor has tried to question patriarchal traditions like conducting puberty rituals for girls, 'thaali' sentiment and so on. True to the 2D stable, the film also has some anti-caste dialogues mouthed by Sasikumar.

However, much of this remains at the surface level. For instance, though Mathangi says that marriage should be an individual's choice, when her daughter's engagement ceremony is disrupted and the groom replaced in the last minute (a Tamil cinema tradition that has made it to the year 2021), everyone says it's glorious because "it will unite two families". There's also no conversation on Keerthana's education or job prospects (in contrast with Vivek who has studied Aeronautics abroad) — marriage is simply her destiny. There are dialogues that question the patriarchal practice of a man remarrying if his first wife is unable to bear children; but the film ends up endorsing superstitious and exploitative rituals that promise to cure infertility. Some of the dialogues underline women's agency, yet a sexual assault survivor who was unconscious at the time of the incident, is not informed about what happened to her in order to 'protect' her.

The family clearly belongs to a dominant caste, seeing the respect that they command from the other residents. Pakkadi has been with them from the time he was a boy, but he remains in 'servant status' all through, to be at their beck and call. If this is such a generous family, why wasn't he educated so he could have a life of his own instead of living on their 'benevolence'? The feudal mindset becomes even more evident when he's expected to be grateful despite being slapped around. In one scene, the 'kind and just' Vairavan slaps Pakkadi, blaming him when Mathangi, goes missing. In another, Pakkadi considers it to be an 'honour' to receive blows from the police because he's being 'loyal' to the family. Such depictions are, of course, normalised in Tamil films but in a 'message padam' that claims to have anti-caste values, more thought should have gone into writing the characters.

This is not an attempt to slam the film for trying; it's an earnest appeal for filmmakers to think, read and research more when they do the trying, instead of lazily wetting their feet in sociopolitical issues.

Kalaiyarasan as Adhiban is stuck in a poorly written role though he tries to put on a convincing show. The problem is, the film gives the impression that this is a stage play, with every actor expected to step forward, stand under the spotlight and stun the audience with their 'acting'. The background score amplifies this even more, constantly trying to push the viewer to the brink of tears.

Udanpirappe becomes exhausting with unnecessary and predictable twists that make the film longer than it needs to be. If only it had been less invested in lecturing to the audience or trying to wring out tears and aimed to tell a story about families the way they are — warts and all — it would have been far more entertaining and honest.

Watch: Trailer of Udanpirappe

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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