A film without a hero, but full of manipulative human characters, it is one of the best performances delivered by Mohanlal from his early years.

Uyarangalil poster
Flix Flix Flashback Saturday, June 20, 2020 - 12:04

A movie that achieved cult status, Uyarangalil (1984) directed by IV Sasi and written by MT Vasudevan Nair delves deep into the twisted psyche of the protagonist â€”  PK Jayarajan. The movie takes us on a dark journey of crime, guilt and the games people play. A film without a hero, but full of manipulative human characters, it is one of the best performances delivered by Mohanlal from his early years.

He is asleep, sprawled next to her, after a night of love-making. The woman wakes up, pulls up her clothes and urges him to get up before their domestic worker arrives. She reminds him of the money he promised which she has to send to her father. He teases her about a former lover. In another scene, he has planned a fraud at the estate where he is working as an assistant manager and has pulled his helpless co-workers into the plan. But when they are caught red-handed by their superior, while the other two plead guilty, Jayarajan (a brilliant Mohanlal) is deceptively calm and smirks at the threats.

Written by MT and directed by IV Sasi, Uyarangalil is one of the lesser discussed investigative thrillers in Malayalam cinema. The narrative is built around its formidable antagonist — P K Jayarajan, who never lets you peek into his mind. Allan Rufus talks about life being a game of chess thus — â€śTo win you have to make a move. Knowing which move to make comes with insight and knowledge, and by learning the lessons that are accumulated along the way. We become each piece within the game called life!”

But with Jayarajan, it comes with being deprived of a life he wanted, being humiliated, rejected, and understanding that nothing comes without asking. It has made him bitter, unscrupulous, and greedy. He does not have a kind bone left in his body. He uses women as pawns for his own cruel game and discards them when they come in his way. He is a bit like George Mellis, the devastating charmer who works his way up through devious means in Sidney Sheldon’s Master of the Game.

Placed in the backdrop of a hill station, the narrative revolves around a tea estate and the people working there. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Johnny (Nedumudi Venu) who lives with his four sisters and mother. His married sister has been sent home to collect the rest of the promised dowry and he is deep in debt. Chandran (Rahman with a badly made beard) is also struggling to send money home. For Jayarajan, they are merely hostages who figure in his larger devious plans. When the manager (Janardhanan) gets wind of his treachery, he is the first to get bumped off by Jayarajan.

When the petrified colleagues talk about surrendering to the police, Jayarajan coolly buys their silence with fake promises. It is interesting to watch his gradual climb to a state of megalomania, to a point where he fancies himself as a demigod. Every move is calculated, every word and gesture measured, projecting a deathly calm exterior. As the cops arrive in office to investigate the manager’s murder, his face gives nothing away — it is the right mixture of surprise and concern. He sees an opportunity in every crisis.

After the murder of the manager, Jayarajan targets his young widow, eyeing the money she will inherit. The process begins smoothly — a stray remark about a resemblance with his dead girlfriend, protecting her from a rude cop, prodding her to confide in him that the marriage was a farce and eventually winning her over. The scene where he seduces her is disturbing, it could easily pass off as molestation.

The narrative also cleaves open the misogyny and patriarchy prevalent in the society, apart from normalising dowry. Johnny’s sister harasses him for not paying her in-laws the promised money, despite the mother cautioning her about going back to a man who prioritises money over her. A woman who has lived in a marriage for namesake, is expected to mourn for life. It can also be that the women he met in life have always used him for their own gains and that has made him a cynic.

The nurse with whom he had a clandestine affair is strangulated to death. He equates her to “consuming hotel food occasionally” to the cop who comes for investigation. During a casual chat when a cop voices doubts about the manager’s wife’s role in killing him, he dismisses it — “A woman won't stab anyone to death. She will only poison them.” It strangely reminded me of the recent high-profile murder case in Kerala, where a woman poisoned her family members and a psychiatrist spoke about the gendered psychology behind it.

While Jayarajan is the mastermind behind the operations, his colleagues who were dragged into the crime are battling guilt, and their own failure to confess to the crime. Johnny starts drinking, while Chandran is morose and is constantly keeping an eye on Jayarajan’s activities. However, certain narrative devices looked redundant. Like the camera focusing on Jayarajan’s sinister expressions to convey his state of mind. Jayarajan’s calmness is unnerving. At every potentially threatening situation, he remains unflappable —when the nurse storms into his office, and creates a ruckus, Jayarajan listens to it quietly, and as skilfully calms her down. He systematically gets down to the business of annihilating the people who stand in his way — manager, nurse Padma, and Johnny.

Chandran is so familiar with Jayarajan’s psyche that he instantly understands when Jayarajan executes a murder. In the final scene when he is about to execute the last murder, but gets caught red-handed, Jayarajan does not lose his cool for a second and instead curses his decision not to kill Chandran. One is not sure why they kept that moment where he discloses his backstory to the end, which when played out as a climactic monologue looked a bit stretched. It somehow made the end look premeditated, including that leap towards death.

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with Silverscreen.in. She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to Fullpicture.in and thenewsminute.com. She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.