What’s Unda? No, its not a Malayalam movie that’s upholding an age old tradition by misspelling the Hindi word for “egg’. Unda ,apart from other things is also the malayalam for bullet, yes the one that goes into a gun’s chamber not the one that’s ridden. So much for disambiguation. Unda was in the news early on not just because it was a Mammooty vehicle. The man at the helm was Khalid Rehman, who impressed with his debut, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam. Moviegoers were obviously curious to see the result of the collaboration. Now that the shots have been fired, it’s time to check the target sheets to see if it’s a hit or a miss by Mammooty and Khalid Rehman this time around.
Khalid Rehman has based this film on a real life incident that he reportedly came across in a news column in a Malayalam daily, about a battalion of men from the Kerala Police who were sent to Chattisgarh to provide security for a leg of the 2014 Parliamentary Elections to be held in a constituency in a region plagued by Maoist insurgency. The men faced severe hardships in unfamiliar situations they’d never imagined they’d come across in their comparatively laid back duty days back in Kerala. The film, we were told, was supposedly a realistic retelling of the experiences of these men. Much of that is indeed true. Incidentally, the director’s debut film also had a cop character who was far removed from the regular movie cop, played by Biju Menon. That Khalid Rehman has a penchat for impeccable detailing in setting up complex scenes, as much in terms of the surroundings and enviornments that his characters dwell in, as the characters themselves, was more than evident in his debut film. Those skills come to the fore here again, when he takes the viewers on a journey with the characters into the jungles of Chattisgarh. He is extremely frugal with his actors and they deliver exactly what he demanded from them, in terms of screen space and dialgoues, nothing more nothing less. His greatest success as a director in Unda is the fact that this frugality is imposed on everyone from the realtively greehorn-ish Lukman to the Big M himself. There’s no contesting the fact that the script is king here and for me at least, ironically it’s the script that fizzles out in a whimper towards the end and let’s the film down ultimately. To draw from a fitting analogy, the movie follows a tracjectory in its narration that’s akin to that of a bullet, the eponymous Unda with it’s peak, crest and the inevitable drag towards the end. A slew of promising actors, namely Shine Tom, Rony David, Arjun Ashokan, Lukman, Gokulan and Noushad make up the band of cops who are led through their ordeal by Mammooty and Director Ranjith, who features in an extended cameo. Asif Ali and Vinay Fort appear in scenes which almost had me thinking that the wong movie was being streamed. The USP of Anuraga Karikkin Vellam was that it came across as a consistent exercise in breaking cliches and stereotypes, right from casting to characters to the plot itself. Unda does that a lot, for most parts but it fails to sustain that motivation towards the end.
Unda is not a bad movie by any stretch of imagination, it is in fact a very good film, considering the fact that the lead actor’s last three releases in Malayalam were the de-facto hit Madhuraraja, the-blink-and-you-miss-at-the-box-office Oru Kuttanadan Blog and that lingering assault on human intelligence that Abrahaminte Santhathikal was. This brings us to the definition, rather the redefinition of the idea of a “good film” these days. In terms of lead actors, these are films where the actors don the roles of regular human beings and doesn’t pack a punch or a kick that defies every known law of physics. Mammooty’s Mani in Unda is one such character but hardly throws him any challenge the entire length of the role. The man could play a character like this in his sleep. Then we have the politics of films. These days, every other movie is political in it’s narrative to the point that it’s almost obligatory. There has to be a mandatory addressing of some sort of discrimination for a film to be taken seriously and Unda does it bit too when it takes on caste here. Though this welcome change could very well be attributed to an increasing awareness amongst makers and viewers about the social realities and circumstances that we opt to turn a blind eye to for the sake of amity, in the absence of an adept screenwriter, this could take a toll on what makes Cinema or any fiction worth our attention, drama. This is even more truer for films based on real life incidents and this is where a film like Virus scores over Unda when it infuses gripping drama into its narration. For a realistic film dealing with real incidents, though I’m not privy to the details of the original incidents, I felt that the film defeats itself when it opts for denial of ground realities ultimately and works to pan out it’s politics in a different direction entirely. This and the last couple of scenes did not work for me exactly which is why I feel that the movie is a well aimed misfire.