Your mind is tuned to a beginning, middle and end. You are used to certain number of peaks (drama) in the screenplay. You think a good story must have twists and turns. You are unsure about how to react to just narrating a story about a life as life is. And you hate a film because of your prejudice. And the film slowly grows on you. Over time, you start saying that the movie was a classic. This has happened earlier with Iruvar, Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam. It is likely to happen with Uttama Villain. Uttama Villain (English: Virtuous Villain) is a 2015 Tamil comedy-drama film directed by Ramesh Aravind and written by Kamal Haasan. presented by N. Lingusamy in association with Kamal Haasan and produced by S. Chandrahasan for Raaj Kamal Films International and N. Subash Chandrabose for Thirrupathi Brothers.
Manoranjan (Kamal Haasan) is an aging, arrogant and selfish superstar, who is married to the only daughter Varalakshmi (Urvashi) of the rich and powerful film producer Poorna Chandra Rao (K. Viswanath). On the day of the premiere of his new film (Loved the pun here – name of the film roughly translates to Game of bravery!), he is made aware about two life-altering facts. Which makes him go back to his one-time mentor Margadharisi (K. Balachander). Simultaneously shown in another story, in the 8th century, Muttharasan (Nasser) performs a coup, becomes the king and tries to win over the princess Karpagavalli (Pooja Kumar). He is advised to take the help of Uthaman, a guy who is widely known to have escaped death several times. The film tells two different stories and tries to explore the significance of Uthaman’s story in Manoranjan’s life.
The basic plot is a simple one but Kamal, as usual, layers it with many sub texts. The script explores the concept of immortality. Is immortality a boon or a bane? If everyone and everything is mortal, what keeps us going? What is the role of religious folklore – is it simply to entertain us or help us to understand and overcome the fear of death? Beneath all the selfishness, all the arrogance – are all human beings the same – all we do is just crave for love, affection and recognition?
Fantastic performances all around help Uttama Villain to a great extent. Kamal’s script does justice to each and every character. For a long time to come, one will remember Uthaman, Muttharasan, Karpagavalli, Manoranjan, Arpana, Manohar, Manonmani, Jacob Zachariah, Margadharisi, Poorna Chandra Rao, Varalakshmi and Chokku. This is a great feat considering there are always 4 or 5 characters in a every scene. (Remember Michael Madana Kama Rajan?). Each and every actor delivers but there are two stand out performances (apart from that of Kamal). Nasser as Muttharasan has the most difficult character. He plays a king but plays it like a court jester. And the second performance that stands out is that of Manohar (Manoranjan’s son). This young new actor is just fabulous.
And what else is there to say about Kamal? The veteran gets his best written role after Anbe Sivam and just relishes every bit of it. He plays two roles, the 21st century superstar Manoranjan and the 8th century Uthaman. I was fascinated by how he played Uthaman. In the film, Uthaman’s portions are deeply connected to Margadharisi, Kamal’s real life mentor, K. Balachander. Hence these portions are treated like a K. Balachander comedy in the 60s. Kamal plays Uthaman like how Nagesh, another favorite of K. Balachander, would have played it. It is slapstick but since Nasser plays it slapstick too, Kamal tones it down a bit. He excels in the Iraniyan Nadagam and I doubt any other actor in Tamil Cinema could have pulled it off. All characters surrounding Manoranjan play their roles just right and very real. So Kamal overplays a bit here. Just like in a Vishal Bhardwaj film, where you could feel the music getting integrated at the script stage while watching the film, you can almost feel the tone of acting getting decided at the script stage here.
The technical crew does a first rate job, be it Shamdat’s cinematography, Ghibran’s music, Shobi’s choreography or Ilayaraja’s art direction. Are there not weaknesses at all? There are indeed many of them. Uttama Villain is too long, indulgent, slow paced. Can you see the similarities with Iruvar, Hey Ram and Anbe Sivam there?
Uttama Villain is one of the important films in Tamil Cinema. Here is a change agent who wishes to take Tamil cinema out of the TASMAC-Hero-Hero friend-Love angle pit that it has got stuck into. It is time that we support such ventures. Making it a classic after ten years helps nobody.