Thursday, October 16, 2008

Udhiri Pookkal


Its not easy watching a movie universally regarded as a classic and fondly remembered by everyone who has seen it. The superlatives contained in any description of the movie create sky-high expectations that are difficult to meet and any negative opinions we feel while watching it are accompanied by doubts as to whether we are missing something that the others saw. There are no such problems with Mahendran's Udhiri Pookkal though. It deserves all the accolades it gets. For the most part.

Udhiri Pookkal is completely realistic and for that reason, stands out among the melodrama-laden films of the time. From the atmosphere of the village to the characters inhabiting it to their behavior and interactions with one another, it feels real. So the characters' emotions feel real too. There is no drama even in sequences(like the one where Vijayan visits Charuhasan to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage) that seem to demand it and that makes what the characters say or do, more powerful.

The biggest reason for this realism is ofcourse the characterization. These are real, vivid characters and the emotions they evoke, whether its sympathy or hatred, are real. Even the supporting characters(like the barber, whose repeated requests to shave the boy's head are met in an unexpected way) feel fleshed out and are given their 15 minutes to shine. As a result, we are always absorbed in the proceedings and the movie never feels slow. And Mahendran ensures that affairs of the heart always take centerstage. He even cuts away during scenes of overt, physical violence.

The realism does take a brief hit during the third act of the film. As Ashwini's sister sings a sarcastic but cinematic song after Vijayan's marriage, the movie resorts to a cliche - something it had studiously avoided until then. Vijayan's subsequent act is also so blatant and brazen that it doesn't seem to suit his character. His acts so far, while still heartless, were things he could - and did try to - rationalize to the other villagers. But this act is nothing like that and so seems like a plot point brought in solely to set up the climax.

But the powerful and memorable climax does make us forgive those missteps. It makes us - even if only briefly - question our own feelings towards the characters as Vijayan seems more human than he has been so far while the villagers seem to be the heartless ones. Just as in Mullum Malarum, the build-up is long but effective and Ilaiyaraja's score heightens the impact. The final shot - that gives the title its meaning - shows us who the real victims are through all this.

This is one movie where the characters and the actors who play them are so intertwined so that its difficult to think of one separate from the other. Ashwini, with those sad eyes, tugs at our heartstrings and manages to convey so much (like the thought of how things would have been if she had married Sarathbabu or the split-second of courage as she imagines telling Vijayan what's really on her mind) with those eyes. Even when she smiles, she somehow manages to convey that its just a facade to hide all the sadness inside. Vijayan earns our revulsion as someone completely ruthless and ready to do whatever is needed to attain what he wants. Charuhasan and the actor who plays the barber are just perfect in their roles.

21 Comments:

At 1:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mahendran had the knack to get into the skin of each character and convey a story through them. Inner world of the Protagonist and the Antagonist reflected beautifully on screen that it unfolded into a nice movie watching experience -- It's poetry. Something Maniratnam had when he made Mounaragam, Nayakan and Anjali and later completely lost it. Thevar Magan had that brilliance and in the recent times, Paruthiveeran just made a halfhearted attempt.

 
At 5:32 AM, Blogger Sri said...

This is one of my favourite 'sad' movies. It raised the standard for thamizh cinema which no one, apart from few, cared to beat.

BB, as usual super review. Thank you.

Evalo stars - ***half?

Sri

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger mitr_bayarea said...

Balaji-

Don't remember watching this at all, though have heard songs here and there.

 
At 4:52 PM, Blogger chennaivaasi said...

Watched this movie last year after hearing about it everywhere. Beautiful poetry. Especially the climax where Vijayan utters "I have made all of you like me" and how subtly the director earlier conveys the fact that hero (or villain???) doesn't know swimming. Nice movie where the villain is quite and one amongst us and not the usual loud mouthed idiot.

 
At 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this movie though I heard a lot about it. I'll try to find it...

Its nice to see you reviewing older movies again...is this the re-opening of the Rewind section?

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Ram said...

udhiri pookkall was an absolutely beautiful movie...there was a serenity in this movie (a la balu mahendra's movies) that was so gripping...i too liked the fact that the dramatic tension in the movie existed beneath the surface in all those silences, stares and glances...
overall, wonderful wonderful movie...though one notch below mullum malarum...adhula rajni-shoba ode relationship maari laam chance-ey ille!

 
At 8:58 PM, Anonymous IcyCool said...

I would definitely agree with you Ram one notch below Mullum Malarum. I like the way the different characters are portrayed in that movie. Udhiri Pookal also variety of characters. But I guess it is more slow and less happiness in thuLLaL when you compare with MuLLum Malarum.

btw. Balaji and others have you noticed that many times we have heard ahaa ohoo about a movie of the 70's and it is so in our vague memory too but when we finally get to see that movie we get a different kind of a feeling. I always wonder if it was coz of the changing times or changed me ???
:). Nice review writing Balaji as usual. :)

IcyCool
http://pataampoochi.blogspot.com

 
At 9:21 PM, Blogger Filbert said...

Balaji, what a surprise!! Something many BBThots-ians have been waiting for, a long time now :)

About the movie - agree with Ram when he says Udhiri Pookkal is still one notch below Mullum malarum, which is my most favorite Mahendiran movie!!

 
At 11:17 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

anon, yes the attention paid to detail in the characterization was superb. every expression, gesture, movement seemed natural :)

sri, thank u. and yes, *** 1/2 :)

mitr, am sure 'azhagiya kanne' is a song that even someone who has not heard of the movie would have heard :)

chennaivaasi, vijayan's character seems like the precursor to so many villain roles that came later. prakashraj's role in 'aasai' seems like a direct descendant :)

anon, can't say that. still not much time to revisit older movies :)

ram, 'serenity' - yeah thats a nice word that applies to the movie. however heavy or dark the material was, mahendran had a soft touch that made the movie seem serene :)

and yeah, this one would be a notch below MM for me too :)

icy, i'd say it is both - changed times and changed perspective for us :)

filbert, i've been waiting to catch this for a long time too :)

btw, read ur review too and ur remark on the way he starts each scene was neat. good observation :)

 
At 2:19 AM, Blogger Bart said...

Wow, wow!! BB thanks for reviewing this. I had seen it in my childhood and did not have any memories except the "Azhagiya kanne" song where Ashwini chases the two kids playing. Saw it recently a month ago and felt exactly the same way you've written about it.
Baby anju's smile and awkward reactions sometimes show up awkwardly on screen but it is the thought of her smile that leaves us with a heavy heart towards the end. Wonderful performances. No character took untoward screen time - especially Sarathbabu's character. It could've been made a hero and a dual with the protagonist etc. but Mahendran did not succumb to those. Especially considering the timeperiod in which it came, it is a gem of a movie. Thanks again. (Ilayaraja disappointed though giving us only one good song - "Azhagiya kanne").

 
At 6:17 AM, Blogger Sat said...

It's been a long time since I have watched this movie...so long that the last time I saw it was when I was a little kid and the movie was being played on good old doordarshan. And the only thing I remember from the movie is the climax, the way i felt sorry for Vijayan's character and those kids. My dad said I clinged on to him and cried to sleep. No wonder that climax is one of the most profound ones in Tamil cinema. They sure dont make movies or characters like they used to...hell the themes were darker back then...

 
At 10:02 AM, Blogger Vetrimagal said...

Nostalgic to read about this movie. Mahendran made sensitive movies , ( Tamil yarstick). One of the finest directors of our times.

Felt good reading the review.

 
At 10:40 AM, Anonymous ram said...

am curious...so, what happened to mahendran all those years between kai kodukkum kai and saasanam...?

 
At 11:10 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

bart, u're welcome. i think it was the same with me except that i also remembered the climax apart from the 'azhagiya kanne' song :)

sat, yeah, in general we see cinema getting bolder and tackling darker themes as time pass. but tamil cinema seems to be traveling backwards and becoming safer with each passing year :)

vetrimagal, sensitive is an apt word to describe mahendran's movies :)

ram, i'd like to know that too. did u watch 'saasanam'? i never got to see it. and 'sachein' was directed by mahendran's son, right? don't think he made any more movies after that either :)

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous raj said...

saasanam was average. Udhiri Pookkal is timeless though. Amazing movie. Mullum Malarum is a bit cinematic in that annan-thangai paasamalaramma thingie. Not that it takes away from a great movie but it still is not the achievement that UP is.

Ilaiyaraja is the soul of Udhiri Pookkal. Take him away and the movie would fall by several notches. Naan pada varuvai and Poda poda bokkai are fairly decent songs, though unnecessary in a movie like this.

 
At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mahendran's career was ruined by his alcoholism. His well wishers had plans to resurrect his career as early as a couple of years ago. However, things didn't materialize as Mahendran reportedly missed meetings/discussions/song composition sittings etc routinely.

 
At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uthiri Pookal is for me the “uraikkal “with which other Tamil movies would be compared. It is surprising that most comment are almost casual in their attitude for the movie. It has a stand out performance by Vijayan reinforcing the belief that the director is the king.
The menace he portrays while spitting out a kal in his meal just by looks and casual delivery is unmatched. Mahendran brings out violence in marriage with minmum effort and maximum impact.
Similarly Ashwini’s reaction when asked to get ready for going to the movie is spot on. Barring “poda poda bokke” there is no false step. Madhumalini’s concert in the riverbed establishes her character.

A poem in celluloid.

I am distressed to note that you have not mentioned that the screenplay is based on a short story “Chitrannai” by “Pulamaipitthan”. I will be appalled if people ask me who is “puthumaipitthan” and mortified if somebody mistakes him for MGR’s lyricist!!
vengayam

 
At 6:11 AM, Anonymous ram said...

nope, never got 2 watch saasanam :(

 
At 10:36 AM, Anonymous raj said...

vengayam, let me state that every word that you have written resonates within me. I also recognise Pudhumaipithan:-)
Udhiri Pookkal, as you mentioned, is the urai kal. But then, as many people seem to have mentioned here, MM seems to have more votaries and thats nor suprising given its filmi-ness in parts and exaggerated emotions, Goes to show why there could not be another UP in tamil.

Also, I have this urai kal - Mullum Malarum was remade in Telugu(with Mohan Babu and a clueless young Revathi, to boot) while they dare not touch Udhiri Pookkal. Ofcourse, being Telugu commercial movie, they mangled it up - this is where the proof for my assertion that MM is filmi in parts comes to fruition - they simply took the highly filmi parts(annan thangai paasamalaramma) of the movie and retained only that, made the Fatafat character a vulgar caricature(milked it for indencent exposure) etc. The fact that Telugu commercial movie makers could find elements to remake(even if distorting the original in the process) shows why MM would be a league behind UP. I mean, Mahendran managed to camouflage it beautifully but at the end, it was a highly exaggerated characterisation in MM. That no body dared touch Udhiri Pookkal shows how unique it was and how rooted in its soil it was, how rooted in its convictions it was.
Now, people could turn around and say that Kadhalan was never remade so does it make it a classic - in that case, I guess you dont understand the import of my comment. I am sure vengayam does.

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger sendhil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10:32 AM, Anonymous zen said...

Great movie, no doubt. But I felt that Mahendran has to compromise for some commercial aspects especially songs. Expect that "Azhagiya Kanne" songs, which portraits the existing bond between the mother-son-daughter / brother-sister, my opinion is that there is no need for other songs. About the climax, the twist is the sympathetic feeling the audience get towards the negative character and the natural sound of the river, as it reflects the tense situation much more realistically than the background music.

 

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