Vijay Kumar's Uriyadi, which came out in 2016, caught the audience by surprise. Here was a debut director, who had also cast himself in the lead, and made an experimental film in a genre that's difficult to crack. Uriyadi was about four college students who are sucked into the political warfare around them. The film looked and felt new, with unexpected humour and twists in the plot.
Uriyadi 2 comes three years later and while Vijay Kumar has retained his name from the first film - Lenin Vijay - and says he studied in VRDH, the same college where the last film was set, Uriyadi 2 is about a new set of characters. This is a different story but there are plenty of echoes from the first film, including the soundtrack.There are the references to how caste-based political parties exploit their vote-bank, starting riots and killing people to retain power; there's an attempt to re-create the friend circle which formed the core of the first film; and then, of course, there's the rebellion of the youth, led by Vijay. It's almost as if Vijay Kumar wants to start a canon.
But Uriyadi 2 doesn't look familiar to us only because of its predecessor, it's also because there have been other films with a similar plot - Karthik Subbaraj's Mercury, for instance. Lenin Vijay and his friends find a job in Sengathirmalai where a factory called Paksino manufactures pesticides. The owner, the London-based Raj Prakash (how many more Tamil cinema villains is Vijay Mallya going to inspire, I wonder), has powerful political connections and is least bothered about the plant which is no longer profitable to him. The film, in fact, begins with a voice-over that establishes just how big a callous lout Raj Prakash is.
With such a factory at the heart of the plot, there's only one direction in which the script can move. And it does. However, where Vijay Kumar scores is in setting up the tension despite the audience knowing where this is going. You can feel the pressure building in the sequence before the interval, where the director alternates between what's going on inside the machines and the panic among the employees. The suspense is almost unbearable, sucking you into the blue-purplish nightmare that's bubbling before your eyes.
The story of frightening government apathy and corporate crimes that Uriyadi 2 wants to tell is a vital one. The film is undoubtedly inspired by real life history such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the clamp down on people's protest movements against projects like the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi last year. But having chosen an urgent subject, Vijay falls back on cliches in its telling. As in the first film, the director, who is also the writer of the film, weaves in scientific details in the dialogues, but it feels more like a knowledge dump here than the organic way in which it appeared in the earlier one.
The screenplay is clunky, with a half-hearted romance track hampering the first half, and the second half devolving into a predictable hash of studio debates, loud background music, and easy solutions that we've seen in one too many films. Though Agnes, the girl Vijay falls in love with in the first film, had only a couple of scenes, those moments left an impression. Isaivani (Vismaya) gets a bigger role in Uriyadi 2, but the magic that Vijay managed to create with an ordinary "lubber" in the first film is sorely missing. The characters are one dimensional, especially Raj Prakash who is played by an actor who does not quite have the sophistication to pull off such a glib role.
The scenes following the interval are meant to tug at your heartstrings but the suffering ends up looking merely voyeuristic because we don't know these people and their anguish is painted in broad strokes. It's when pity progresses to empathy that you're moved as a viewer and these scenes fall well short of achieving that. Vijay Kumar himself delivers an intense performance, as a rationalist communist youth (apart from the portraits of Lenin, Marx and Che Guevara in his house, he's dressed in red or black at critical junctures), who decides to hit back but it's not enough to hold the film together. This is now Vijay Kumar's second film which ends on a note that offers violence as the only effective answer and it made me wonder how different his heroes are from his villains. Maybe the walls should have had Stalin?
'Uriyadi' refers to the breaking of the pot ritual game in festivals. While the first film felt like Vijay Kumar had taken aim and broken the mould, the second feels like a miss.
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.