Uttama Villain starts in a very unconventional way for a vehicle carrying one of the biggest stars in Tamil cinema in a supposedly comedy caper. We are immediately introduced to a middle-aged superstar Manoranjan (Kamal Haasan), not in his fame alone, but also behind his fame.
He is an alcoholic trying to stave off consistent headaches.
He owes much of his financial success to his father-in-law, who is a film producer.
His teenage son is busy trying to make out with his girlfriend during his father’s film screening.
He himself has an extramarital affair with his family doctor Aparna (Andrea Jeremiah).
He has fathered another child with a woman named Yamini and has just discovered about this.
All this is revealed within the first 30 minutes or so of the movie.
Doesn’t make for a very pretty picture about the man behind the stardom. But that was what the title implies- Uttama Villain. There is no grand introduction here for Kamal Haasan, because this is a story about a man, not a hero. A man with all his flaws, who realises that he is dying and wants to make one last film with mentor-director (K Balachander) to immortalise himself beyond the limited time he has left on earth.
There is no judgement of bad or good. It’s a humble, at times too honest a portrayal of a movie star who tries for one last hurrah, to do justice to his own existence. And as expected, while exploring a topic as deep as life and death, Kamal Haasan, the ever renowned atheist, does not try to justify it with religion, but leaves the justifications, vague, almost open to interpretation.
In the final scenes of the movie, Manoranjan will be wheeled to the hospital as his illness finally gets the better of him. But even in his final moments, he would be begging KB to allow him to take one more shot of a song they were shooting. KB acknowledges that Mano would never be happy until the final edit, but tells him, “listen to me this one time.” There was no retake. The superstar did not get to see the final edit, of what, poignantly, is the montage of his best performance to date.
As his family, from his long lost daughter, to his estranged wife, all gathered to cheer at his performance in a hospital, he breathes his last under surgery. He has done his part.
Then there is the recurring theme of the movie- “There is nothing sadder than immortality. There would be no listeners to an endless story.”
This was not a Ramesh Aaravind-Kamal Haasan comedy gala. Yes, the final movie Manoranjan ends up making is a comedy caper involving a folklore story involving a 8th century street artiste. Here, we are treated to generous dosage of laughter fits while admiring Kamal’s stunning eye movements and graceful Theyyam performances.
But the mainframe story, which runs parallel with the comedy film being shot, is as serious as it gets. While the comedy film tells of king who wishes immortality, in the mainframe, we have superstar who is trying to face his own mortality the best way he can. The way he interacts with his son, his wife, his love, his long-lost daughter, is not upscaled drama alone- it’s real, it’s imperfect, it’s full of human interactions. If you wear your heart of your sleeve, it would be difficult to keep your eyes dry in any one of these moments.
Kamal Haasan displays five dimensions here- first as the raging superstar, almost being a self-critical parody of his own self, which takes plenty of guts, as the comedic street artiste, as the Theyyam performer with an amount of grace so unreal for a 60-year-old (the finale Iraniyan Nadagam was epic), as the poet-singer (he wrote and sang most of the songs and you’d be hard pressed to find better theatre modulation and lyrics in any other album), and finally, as the man who wrote a parallel screenplay with such finesse.
Adding another dimension to the two dimensions existing in the movie, this is Kamal Haasan in an indirect way trying cement his own immortality while facing his own mortality at the age of 60. He’s not trying to appear young anymore, he’s trying to accept that he is middle aged.
Pooja Kumar at times looks out of place in the folklore setting, but it’s difficult to find chinks in a film with such heavy emotional performances. This movies does not have a cameo from K Balachander, in fact, it has the most extensive supporting role KB has ever played in a movie. And he is brilliant in every single frame he appears alongside his most prised disciple.
Andrea as Aparna shines in a grey role, who unconditionally loves Mano despite being unable to be formally recognised to the public as the wife. Urvashi is also brilliant as Mano’s wife who suffers from her own mid-life crisis. MS Bhaskar steals the show, however, as his manager, and it’s such a great pleasure an actor of his known calibre was given such a central pivot to the story.
Then there is the prodigous Ghibran with his stunning array of musical compositions. Uttama Villain is high on quality in the music department, though it must take a keen ear and an understanding of the folklore history to comprehend the amount of genius that flowed through the music department here.
But as the final montage says- “Love and intellect” are the immortal elements, one with which you cement your own immortality (said while juxtaposing with a legion of stars on the sky).
Uttama Villain is Kamal Haasan cementing his intellect and his love for the medium that made a man out of a six-year-old boy.
But it is an immortal body of work- not made for today alone, or tomorrow’s entertainment, but maybe for decades to come, for the times when there will be no Kamal Haasan peering over with his own genius smile and his impeccable love and experimentation of the medium.
The only question is if this depth resonates with the audience of today. But if there is anyone questioning their own mortality without any religious twist to it, UV is as inspirational, real, and close to heart as it gets.
There are movies and then there are movies. This is the latter.
I’m glad to be part of the crowd who resonated with the love and intellect of this particular galaxy of stars. The thing is, this legion of stars forms one personality- Kamal Haasan, in his many hats.
Multitasking didn’t always work well for Kamal, but when you make a honest movie, it all falls into place. It did.
UV is a movie for the shelves. It will come again handy someday. It celebrates death. It celebrates going away with a bang. It resonates with a man who had lost his guru
KB sir must be beaming from wherever he is. In Kamal Haasan, KB’s intellect has been immortalised.
Thank you Kamal, for being on the dais, for daring to write this.