Uttama Villain: The story of a star and his legacy

Actor Kamal Haasan has often taken a stand against the derivative and formulaic movies.

Each of his works has been considered a critique, of the mediocrity of the Tamil film industry. He has insisted on pursuing excellence over just going after a box-office success; formal training over the lazy ‘learning-on-the-job’.

So, when Kamal Haasan decided to play the role of Manoranjan, a Tamil film superstar, it was pregnant with immense possibilities. Though he insisted that Uttama Villain was not a ‘satire’ of the film industry, it was but natural that the audience and/or his fans expecting a film that offered a peek into what goes into the construction of an actor’s image in the society, indictment of superstardom, the intricate politics of the Tamil film industry, and the process of filmmaking itself.

But, the film only partly touches on all these aspects.

Uttama Villain is essentially a ‘throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-the-audience’ type family drama. It features an ageing superstar, who is forced to confront the skeletons of his past, re-evaluate his relationships and come to terms with his mortality in the present and his legacy in future.

Uttama Villain

Director: Ramesh Arvind
Cast: Kamal Haasan, Pooja Kumar, Andrea and Nasser
Storyline: A movie star forced to confront his past, re-evaluate his priorities in the present and think about his legacy in future

The film begins with an engaging hook: a superstar, who has been making formula films and dealing with a personal tragedy, wants to make a film with his mentor, Margadarsi (K. Balachander), and make amends. He wants it to be a comedy and calls it, ‘ Uttama Villain’. This film, directed by Margadarsi, is about a Koothu artiste, who is mounting an effort to oust a nasty king (Nasser).

No doubt, the narrative technique is inventive. The simultaneous unfolding of these two stories; with the story of Uthaman, set many centuries ago, unfolding almost as a fantasy of Manoranjan, offers a very interesting perspective of ‘reality’ of fiction in cinema, and how cinema is merely an illusion of reality.

If Manoranjan’s life is about how he deals with the reality of his mortality, Uthaman’s story is about how he has been able to dodge death, missing it by a whisker every single time. Though his life is winding up as a tragedy, Manoranjan wants to make a comedy.

There was tremendous potential to work on this interesting interplay of reality and fantasy, but one can’t help feeling that these sequences don’t quite hit the notes.

The comedy film-within-the film, which has its funny moments, impacts the narrative’s ability to sustain the illusion within an illusion.

The culprit seems to be the nature of the jokes in the period film: a good chunk of which depends on scatalogical humour and associated wordplay, which we have come to expect from Kamal Haasan and co. What lifts the segment are the Theyyam-inspired performances, which are beautifully choreographed, conceived and shot. Actors Kamal Haasan, Nasser and Pooja Kumar nail these scenes.

At the end of the film, what stays with us is the story of Manoranjan, the star who has accepted the reality of his mortality and his vices. This could be because of the world that he inhabits that feels more real.

We empathise more with a man who makes one last ditch attempt to redeem his legacy on celluloid. That’s the Kamal Haasan we are more interested in.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 11:36:27 AM |

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