Malayalam film Unda breaks the sacred protocol of ‘Mammootty-in- khaki ’ films, a genre in itself. Khalid Rahman starts with the near-blasphemous act of panning camera to the actor's face before introducing us to his boots, a ritual we are so familiar with. There is no signature soundtrack as Mani sits at a roadside teashop, sipping his chai while pinning down a pickpocket with his strong-but-unaggressive stare. The director further goes on to deny the star all those testosterone-driven dialogues and adulating camera angles, systematically sealing his way to the alpha male hall of fame. And in that process he treats the audience to an immensely realistic narrative, part satiric and part poignant.
Unda follows Sub Inspector Mani and his boys as they land at a Maoist-infested poll station buried deep in the woods of Chhattisgarh for election duty. The nine-member squad from a police camp in Kerala has no idea about insurgency and arrive there without adequate arms or ammunition. For them the height of bravado is charging into a march of unruly college students and they all, including their commander Mani, have never fired a shot in their entire service so far.
- Director: Khalid Rahman
- Cast: Mammotty, Shine Tom Chacko, Bhagwan Tiwari
- Run time : 140 minutes
The film has a very thin storyline, but the screenplay adds layers to it, elevating it to a brilliant and full-bodied narrative. The script in its contours holds a whole lot of subtlety, but there is no extravagant or larger-than-life attempt at entertaining or self-expression. The script penned by Khalid Rahman and Harshad weaves a vibe so fluid that you are easily sucked into its easy spontaneity. There is this delicate undercurrent of dread and foreboding, but it never punctures the film's air of lightness.
Mammootty, supported by a terrific ensemble cast, is the major strength of the film. They make a microcosm of the larger picture of hierarchy and of pretence, insensitivity and discrimination. They come from a State so advanced and progressive compared to the rugged hinterland of Bastar, a fact that they are quite proud of. But below the veneer of all refinement and civility are deep chasms of caste and class, a point where all delusions of political correctness ends.
SI Mani has no swag, he is an ordinary cop, unassertive and at times fragile. Mammootty brings in that elusive transparency to his role as he effortlessly glides from confusion to resolve and curiosity to compassion. In his portrayal of Mani, a character with subtlest curves and tones, Mammootty becomes both the dancer and the dance. And his graph moves hand-in-hand with all others including a perpetually sulking Jojo (Shine Tom Chacko) and Biju (Lukman) who struggles with his subaltern identity. While Prashant Pillai’s scoundscape adds a solid edge to the inherent drama, Sajith Purushan never allows his camera to luxuriate in an unfamiliar terrain and opts for telescoping the ground reality. Unda is a film that takes us far from all the tropes of mainstream, yet it hits the bullseye, fair and square.