Udanpirappe  Review – Jyothika’s 50th film is a disappointment from start to finish
It is a rare occurrence to see an actress’ career create such a stir in a film industry that even before the title credits of the film, the audience is aware of its legacy. That Udanpirappe is Jyotika’s 50th film is exhibited in a logo and a pre-title montage and makes a strong case for the actor’s celebrated movie characters. Billed as her ‘second innings’, Udanpirappe is the second film released under the banner of 2D Entertainment, jointly made by Jyotika and her actor-husband Suriya, in the four-film deal that they have signed with Amazon Prime Video. It’s heartening to see the actress trying out different roles that place women at the center of the action. Although, despite her best efforts, Udanpirappe barely manages to make an impact.
Set in Tamil Nadu, Udanpirappe starts off hurriedly. First with a sequence of two children falling into a well, and then jumping to another setting where a priest laments over the lost deity in a temple. Cut to a group of women cleaning a marshland when they realize that Maathangi (Jyothika) is missing. News reaches her brother Vairavan (Sasikumar) and her husband Sargunam (Samuthirakani). Soon after, she emerges with the deity in her hand. Suddenly the sky is overcast with clouds and it starts to rain heavily. The entire sequence feeds on stereotypes and feels stuck in 1980s melodrama.
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Directed by Era Saravanan, Udanpirappe is replete with such tropey sequences, overblown without adding any emotional depth to the narrative. At the center of it is the strained relationship between Maathangi and Vairavan, who are not in speaking terms due to a thing of the past. Vairavan, who fights his way through life. His introduction scene is another piece altogether – beating goons that are hired to kill him to a pulp because they hurt a stray dog.
Sargunam (note the name) is a complete contrast, a Gandhian figure and law-abiding schoolteacher who is at loggerheads with the ways of Vairavan. Saravanan creates these half-baked characters and then fills them with a progressiveness that feels completely surface-level. Consider how Maathangi gives her opinions on vaccines, questions ‘thaali’ sentiments, and does not have to think twice while pawning her mangal sutra for a medical emergency. But when her daughter Keerthana’s (Nivedhithaa Sathish) marriage is saved at the last minute by a new groom (another age-old trope that is still recurrent) it is teemed to be an occasion for the union of two families. Also, there are no conversations about Keerthana’s career prospects whatsoever.
Even though Vairavan is open about his infertility, the narrative inadvertently holds up to superstitions that are supposedly meant to be its cure. Equally baffling is the way Udanpirappe treats the entire segment on sexual assault, talking about the agency of a woman in current society. The survivor who was found unconscious at the spot is not informed about the further proceedings because of the need to protect her. So, there is a huge gap between what the characters say and what they end up doing in the narrative bogged down with the need to produce revelations without even having spent some thought on the character’s actions.
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Udanpirappe is essentially a film trying to be a more progressive version of itself but it is stuck in the 1980’s melodrama. It feels as if there are two different films trying to fit in the same narrative, yet the superficiality is visible from a mile. Involving issues of caste and sexual assault within the plot feels like an afterthought, and infusing it within the main narrative that is essentially serving as a family drama does not add anything to Udanpirappe. The plot holes are jarring – the equation between Maathangi and Saragunam is never examined properly. The build-up to Maathangi’s sacrifice is dominated by ridiculous visual effects that threaten to fall towards a laughable impression.
The performances are inconsistent and fail to create an impact. Jyothika is fine but there is a palpable rigidity to her performance, even in the numerous reaction shots that are given to her (which are best suited for a TV serial). Sasikumar and Samuthirakani are given roles they can play even in their sleep. The hurriedly-paced climax puts a final nail on its coffin. Udanpirappe is disappointing from start to finish that fails to create any impact.