Uriyadi , set in the 1990s, begins with four youngsters in an engineering college in Trichy. At first, they appear to be fairly typical boys. They’re from smaller towns and they’re enjoying being free, smoking and drinking and celebrating birthdays by smushing cake on the face. Slowly, we see there’s a bit of a social conscience in them. When an old man is denied entry into the hotel they frequent, they stand up for him. When a girl is teased on a bus, one of them beats up the guy. What’s refreshing about first-time writer-director Vijay Kumar is that he doesn’t glamourise these guys, he doesn’t make them saints or heroes — not even vigilante heroes. They’re just boys who don’t believe in rulebooks, and who know how to fight back. Two of these fights are superbly choreographed. In our action sequences, you see only the choreography, but here you see the chaos , you see people scrambling, slipping, falling — not people executing perfect punches.
Things take a political turn when a caste-based outfit decides to erect a statue for its martyred leader. Vijay Kumar shows us — even if not in great detail — how these small outfits form a party whose mission is (apparently) to represent that particular caste, get votes from people belonging to that caste, get elected to power, and trade this power for favours from bigger parties. They’re not all noble either — one of them is in the fake-liquor racket.
The rest of the film is what happens when the boys keep running into (accidentally and on purpose) and antagonising party underlings — but Uriyadi isn’t just a political film. It’s an adult film as well, a film that doesn’t try to shield the viewer from drug use and brutal violence. The storytelling is adult too, using flashbacks and flash-forwards. In other words, there’s no spoon-feeding, no “commercial” compromise. Even the love angle is a small flashback — this movie is all male, with one transgender who returns to the story in a way you don’t expect. A furnace, too, is repurposed in a surprising way. If you’ve wondered about the effect of 1000-plus degrees on the human head, your wait is over.
There are some rough edges — both in the making, and in the performances by a bunch of newcomers — which I suspect is more an issue of the budget. And some of the plot points seem rushed through, if not borderline incomprehensible. But to compensate, there’s texture and a ton of detailing, When a man is beaten up, he isn’t just oozing fake blood. He finds it difficult to speak because his mouth is swollen. An incidental touch like this says a lot about the sensibilities of a director. Uriyadi isn’t just something you say good things about because it’s from a first-time filmmaker. Vijay Kumar doesn’t need a condescending pat on the back. He’s a solid filmmaker, and he’s made a gritty little film.