Tamil ‘Wednesday’ misses out on Mumbai context…Sandy’s review of Unnaipol Oruvan


Starring:  Kamal Haasan, Mohanlal, Lakshmi

Directed by: Chakri Toleti

Stars: **1/2

It’s obvious why the subject of A Wednesday appealed to Kamal Haasan.  The nature of commercial film business in India is such that 50 plus heroes find very few scripts appropriate to their age and stature. So when a vigilante justice drama comes along, where the two leads have plum parts to essay, a remake is a tempting proposition.

Of course, both Hindi and the Southern industry are heavily into borrowing each others’ hit ideas these days, and so far, they are reaping rich dividends. There have been Ghajini and Wanted – both Southern remakes – that created fireworks at the boxoffice. Similarly, many hits in Hindi like Munnabhai MBBS and recently Jab We Met have been remade in Southern languages.

Among these remakes, masala films and love stories that have a certain universal appeal find favour on both sides. However, when a subject is more location or culture specific, remaking it in a different setting poses problems of plausibility.
That is a major issue with Unnaipol Oruvan, a story about a common man being so angered by the situation of terrorism in his country that he comes up with the requisite technology and temerity to dispense off with terrorists responsible for the crimes.  Democracy has enormous strengths, but the essential slowness of the legal processes and the general ineptitude of our governing bodies, is what makes vigilante justice appear so appealing to it people.
Unnaipol Oruvan points towards this rage inside the common man and presents a fantasy-like scenario where the evil is cleansed off in one stroke.

The concept of course is not new to the South at all.  One knows of films like Aparichit, Nayak and Haasan’s own Hindustani that had similar themes.  But unlike them, which were meant as masala entertainers, Unnaipol Oruvan —  as one has seen from A Wednesday — has a quasi-realistic tone, which is why the film can’t escape from being judged on different parameters. The same can be said for Madhavan’s Evano Oruvan – remake of the Nishikanth Kamat directed Marathi film Dombivili Fast— that released a couple of years ago to a mixed response in Chennai. The local train motif is a vital aspect in Kamat’s film, and since trains are the very life-line of Mumbai, the theme is more rooted to the exact problems of the city. The Tamil version missed that element.

When Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday was made, the 26/11 had not happened to Mumbai, yet, the wounds of several bomb blasts afflicted on the city were still fresh, which is why a common man emerging from the multitude of people and talking the launguage the terrorists understand was attractive.  Even if the idea of one man holding an entire police department to ransom by virtue of some technological prowess is not entirely plausible, it’s a leap of faith the viewer is willing to take.  The emotion struck a chord.
However, Unnaipol Ouruvan is left to strive hard to achieve any such emotional connect. The Southern states have not really been in the eye of the storm as much as Mumbai, Gujarat or some of the other states. Yes, there has been an instance of terror attack in Bangalore and one in Chennai, but nowhere close to what Mumbai has gone through.  Naturally then, Kamal Hasaan, as the ordinary man,  keeps harping on these two incidents alone.  And then goes on to add that the Southern states must not be apathetic to what goes on in the rest of the country.  It’s easy to see this gesture arising from the compulsion of the subject itself more than anything else.

The film loses its punch because of the change in location but if that aspect were to be entirely ignored, it’s a mostly well-made film. There are very little changes made to the screenplay from the Hindi version, but overall, this is a neater, sensibly toned down film (many of the scenes in A Wednesday were horribly loud). The biggest attraction is of course watching Mohanlal and Kamal in action and they make this film worthwhile with their powerful personas. In A Wednesday, Naseeruddin Shah was clearly the pivotal character. In the Tamil version, Mohanlal as the chief commissioner makes a stronger impact. The slight variation to A Wednesday is the addition of Lakshmi’s character, a senior minister who is part of the team meant to thwart Kamal’s plans. She starts of being high-handed and officious and it’s interesting to see her and Mohanlal getting into a few verbal duels. It’s clear Mohanlal is not too fluent in Tamil and he keeps interspersing Malayalam words.

One disappointing aspect of the film is lack of Shruti Haasan’s music. The promos gave an inkling that there might be some interesting bits of background music or a song at the start or end to look forward to. No such luck. There’s very little of it, almost negligible.  If you have to watch it, do so for the two actors who leave a definite mark with their presence in a film that comes with its share of problems.

-Sandhya Iyer

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31 Responses to “Tamil ‘Wednesday’ misses out on Mumbai context…Sandy’s review of Unnaipol Oruvan”

  1. lo sandys bad run at movies continue i seem ;-)

    humne toh wanted dekha or njoy kiya ..did u???

    between interesting review and dealing of the locale situation… also i liked the review how it dealth with terrorism issue ..]

    between u should add spoilers above for others whi havent seen a wednesday or ur public who might be watching the concept first time.

    njoy

  2. Pretty incisive review, Sandy. Specially the point about 50+ heroes finding it tough to bag plum roles.

    I haven’t seen the film (might take a while for me to do so, given the lack of subtitled dvds in the market) but I’ll be quite surprised if Kamal ever gets close to Naseer’s brilliant portrayal of a ‘common’ man gone nuts. Incidentally, Naseer’s get up was partially inspired by R K Laxman’s cartoon character from TOI? I could see a few similarities there.

    I thought Anupam Kher was flat as a pancake in ‘A Wednesday’. He was an unmitigated disaster trying to play the foil to Naseer. That said, Jimmy Shergil was quite a delight to watch.

    So, in summary, A Wednesday clicked for its brilliant diatribe (dialogues were quite good!), Naseer’s brilliant performance and Jimmy’s watershed moment, at least IMO.

    • Good to see you here, Saket. I’ll agree on Jimmy Shergill as well – he was effective here.

      • Thanks, GF!

        How would you compare Kamal’s performance to Naseer’s? Having gotten rid of ‘prosthetic’ crutches this time around, I sure hope it’s much more effective than Kamal’s recent outings.

        • I actually thought Kamal was more enjoyable to watch, but that’s more a personal preference. Naseer nailed the righteous anger sections and was even otherwise quite good at being an “anchor” throughout the chaos, but I quite liked Kamal’s moments of theatricality. In a number of ways though, even with some flourishes this is one of Kamal’s most “giving” moments as an actor in recent years. He kind of steps back and lets the ensemble cast and script take over. All things considered, I would pretty much place Naseer and Kamal on equal footing in this role. Between Mohanlal and Anupam Kher, however, I would easily pick the former any day of the week…obviously I’m a very big fan of Lal’s, but I’d like to think it’s still a pretty easy choice between the two…

          • Between Mohan Lal and Anupam Kher, only the most die-hard contrarian would choose Kher! Having said that, I thought Kher was particularly listless in this role, which probably makes it a no-brainer.

        • masterpraz Says:

          Saket….welcome!!!!!

  3. Oh, and that bit about ‘Electric’ Baba was hilarious!

  4. Very good review, Sandy. I agree that the core issues relevant to “A Wednesday” were not transposed successfully to a context where the problems are not so prevalent.

    Ultimately though, I preferred this version by quite a margin not only because it felt more energetic and dialed down a lot of the heavy-handed filmmaking of its predecessor, I was also a sucker for the matchup between Kamal and Lal which paid off quite well here.

    One thing I’ll say about UPO is that moreso than Wednesday it contained really seamlessly blended “lighter” moments of dialogue, wittier lines, etc. Really liked some of the exchanges between Mohanlal and his “staff” here…

  5. Was looking for comments on technical aspects, new director and new Red camera but….

  6. Yes, I thought the Tamil version was more seamless. Also handled with lot more finess.

  7. As always a well thought out piece Sandy.. contemplated watching this for a while but then didn’t get around to it somehow..

  8. sandy is refusing to review wanted.

  9. I think we are being unfair to Kher. The role was written a particular way so as not to take anything away from Shah’s role. While I am willing to concede Lal may be a superior actor, am sure they made changes befitting Lal’s stature. Kher, I believe is one of the most versatile and natural acotrs ( in commercial setting ). Inspite of overplaying and tendency to loudness at times.

    • Feeling defensive with the Southies having their fun, are we? Hehe…

      You’re right. I wouldn’t say Kher was flat, I think he was just fine. And in general I don’t mind him in the least. He’s versatile in the sense that you can buy him in a number of different roles but I think he lacks presence as an actor…he just doesn’t linger in the way some superior character actors like Naseer, Om, Boman, Irfan, etc tend to. At least, for moi.

    • masterpraz Says:

      Agree! I’ve always felt Kher isn’t given much credit for the most! Right from SARAANSH to KHOSLA KA GHOSLA!

  10. Anyway, will reserve the final verdict till I see the movie, once GF sendS me the DVD. In the meantime will finish watching KM.

  11. SORRY,
    Again, without being defensive and not taking anything away from the Tamil version. the Tamil version obviously enjoys an inherent advantage as it succeeds the Hindi version which was successful and had paved the way. The Hindi version was a much more modest effort and a small film where as here, this seems to be a much bigger project with more resources on hand and an oppurtunity to correct some oft he ‘faults’ of the original version.

    • And I’m not sure if the film corrects any of these faults, (unlike in Ghajini where certain plot points were revised smartly) to be honest. It is pretty much a shot by shot remake (although it’s shot with more finesse) and owes much to the original, but it felt like it had more economy and the dialogue felt crisper and more to the point. Now some of that might be lost on someone not familiar with Tamil, but I still think it’s a slightly more thrilling thriller at the end of the day.

      Also, as a matter of personal preference the coming together of these two guys simply added up to a far more satisfying “clash” than Naseer and Anupam…

  12. @ Satyam,

    Not sure where to put this but below is a link to Bill Mechanics (was running the studios at Dsiney and Fox before going independent) speech on the current state of Hollywood…pretty engrossing read. Not sure if you want to include as a seperate post.

    http://www.deadline.com/hollywood/bill-mechanic-on-moguls-bad-decision-making/#more-16635

  13. Can we have something on wake Up Sid and Do knot Disturb on the main page, Not fair not to have anything on Friday releases. WUS is a winner all the way!

  14. masterpraz Says:

    Just got my hands on this tonight Sandy and remembered your review!

    BTW have you had a chance to read Tariq Ali’s NEHRUS AND THE GANDHIS?

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