Most times, the rowdy in Tamil cinema never registers as anything more than a screaming, aruval swinging character. He's a face in the crowd, someone we don't remember beyond the few minutes of screen time he gets. Occasionally though, we have films like Pudhupettai or Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum which take the rowdy and give him an identity, a life.
Caarthick Raju's Ulkuthu is an attempt in that direction. Attakathi Dinesh and Bala Saravanan who acted in the director's debut film Thirudan Police pair up once again in Ulkuthu. The first half hour of the film is impeded by slapstick humour with annoying background music cues for the jokes and an unnecessary romance track involving Nandita Swetha (is there any rule that one cannot release a film without a heroine?).
However, the film piques our interest once the conflict is introduced. Dhilip Subbarayan as the egoistic son of a kandhuvetti local don named Kaka Mani (Sharath Lohitashwa) has plenty of screen presence and the stand-off between him and Dinesh, who plays Raja (one of his favourite songs incidentally is "Indha Raja kaiiya vacha") sets the stage for an interesting revenge thriller.
Dinesh beautifully underplays his character and though it is surreal to see someone of his physical stature sending goons flying, the actor manages to make us root for him. There's a bit of mystery surrounding his true identity and you are led to believe that the flashback will reveal the secret of his superpowers. While it certainly gives him a motive, it offers no explanation for how he's able to handle hardened thugs with such ease.
Ulkuthu has its moments. The high drama in some scenes, like the one when Raja is playing the innocent at a funeral, or the kabbadi game which is a strange mix of suspense and hilarity (thanks to Bala Saravanan), keeps you interested in the proceedings. This is actually the film's big plus – its ability to straddle comedy and violence and provide unexpected laughs. Bala Saravanan mumbles his lines, speaking in undertone most times, but he still manages to land the punches. "It's good that they beat you up in Visaranai," he tells Dinesh, in a fourth wall breaking line you'd expect in a star vehicle.
Not all rowdies are the same and there's honour among rowdies, too, we learn through John Vijay's character. A nice touch to have a rowdy so enamoured by his wife (Chaya Singh who looks out of place as a flower seller) and with a healthy respect for women.
However, Ulkuthu becomes tedious as it draws to a close. You lose count of the number of times people get slapped around and Kaka Mani's eyes threaten to pop out of his head. Raja delivers a "message" towards the end that looks forced and doesn't sit well with the rest of the film. Why do our filmmakers feel this deep urge to deliver a moral to the audience out of every tale, in Panchatantra fashion?
Nevertheless, with convincing performances by the cast and an average plot, Ulkuthu is a decent effort.
Moral: Watch it for Dinesh and Bala Saravanan.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.