Directed by debutant Buchi Babu Sana, Uppena stars newcomers Panja Vaishnav Tej and Krithi Shetty in the lead roles while Vijay Sethupathi plays the antagonist.

Panja Vaishnav Tej Vijay Sethupathi and Krithi Shetty in a poster for Telugu film Uppena
Flix Review Sunday, February 14, 2021 - 16:33
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Content warning: This film has extreme violence.

How often does a film rely on one big twist? Well, Uppena (meaning high tide in Telugu), the debut film of director Buchi Babu Sana, banks on one extremely violent and disturbing twist. If inspiration from Malayalam and Tamil films resulted in the creation of Colour Photo, Buchi Babu’s Uppena seems to have crossed international boundaries and taken inspiration from South Korean films involving deeply distressing scenes. (I felt thankful that the director did not explicitly show this disturbing scene.)

Uppena stars newcomers Panja Vaishnav Tej and Krithi Shetty in the lead roles with Vijay Sethupathi playing the antagonist. While Vaishnav struggles in his role, Krithi impresses with her performance. Vijay Sethupathi is menacing, to put it mildly. As a casteist feudal lord, Vijay terrifies us each time he appears on the screen. The voiceover given by Ravi Shankar adds strength to his role. Though the dubbing doesn’t sync properly, as the film progresses that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

The plot of the film sounds cliched – a poor teenager from an oppressed caste falls in love with a girl from a dominant caste, and there is resistance to this relationship. However, by defining what constitutes ‘masculinity’, Uppena stands apart from films like Sairat and Kaadhal which had the same theme of caste as a barrier to a relationship.

Aasi (Vaishnav), a Christian from the fishing community, falls in love with Sangeetha (Krithi), the daughter of the village head Kotagiri Rayanam, played by Vijay Sethupathi.

Rayanam takes extreme pride in his caste’s supremacy. He considers his caste pride the only thing worth living and dying for. To keep his ‘pride’ unblemished, he doesn’t hesitate to kill people, only exception being, of course, if they are from his caste.

Whether the couple manage to get away from Rayanam’s clutches and live happily forms the rest of the story.

Director Buchi Babu, who is also the film’s story and screenplay writer, proves that he comes from director Sukumar’s school. Though set in the rural coastal town of Kakinada, the scenes in the first half inevitably remind us of Rangasthalam. But by the end of the film, he proves that there’s more to him than staging a film like his guru.

Consciously choosing a coastal village as the location, with visuals of the tide washing ashore through the film, Buchi cleverly uses it to his full advantage to poetically and symbolically show the depth of love and other emotions running through the story. Full credit to cinematographer Shamdat Sainudeen who does a brilliant job of capturing the breathtaking visuals. Both the film’s cinematography and art department make the film eye-pleasing. Music by Devi Sri Prasad is inconspicuous.

Why I say Buchi is clever is because he knows what the audience expects from a scene and then proceeds to deceive them smoothly.

The romance between Aasi and Sangeetha, whom Aasi has been stalking for 10 years without her knowledge, is quite juvenile and superficial. Sangeetha, a college student, is a ‘bubbly’ teenager with a peculiar belief that anger makes one grow older, reminiscent of Haasini from Bommarrillu, right? But this is a deliberate plot device. Another important character in the film is Sangeetha’s paralysed mother. The director uses her too as a metaphor in the ending.

While Aasi has been fond of Sangeetha from childhood, the latter takes notice of him only when he shows his ‘macho’ side by accidentally hitting her cousin, who was sexually harassing her. The juvenility extends to sharing the same toothbrush as a form of love.

The film changes drastically in the second half. To establish the growing distance in the relationship between the couple and the changes in the story, the director yet again poetically and quite philosophically juxtaposes locations. As the distance between the couple grows, the farther they move away from the sea, eventually reaching the mountainous city of Gangtok in the North East. Quite poetic, right?

Nevertheless, Uppena is a deeply disturbing film. The director compensates for the boring sequences with a traumatic twist. Buchi also undermines the intelligence of the audience at times. Probably worried, since it is his first film, that the audience might not get the visual cues, he takes the effort to explain them orally.

On a side note, something in the film has been bothering me – was the reproductive system taught to degree college students in 2002? Isn’t the lesson supposed to be taught in Class 9 and 10?

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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