In an age where loud and often lengthy dialogues have become the order of the day, Santosh Sivan’s Urumi is cinema in its purest form. Cinema is more about art of telling a story with visuals and dialogues do not take centre stage unless absolutely necessary to drive the story forward. Urumi is a period film set in early 16th century and narrates a fictional tale of a brave warrior, Chirakkal Kelu Nayar who leads a group of men to assassinate Vasco da Gama. The film throws light on the atrocities committed by Vasco da Gama and his army after they reached the shores of Kerala in 1497.
Urumi portrays Vasco da Gama as a ruthless sea explorer who killed hundreds of innocent men and women. Kelu (Prithviraj) grows up with revenge in his heart and he wants to kill Vasco da Gama to avenge his father’s death. He forges a sword (Urumi) with gold drenched in blood of his own people. His quest leads him to a kingdom where he sees an opportunity to fulfill his ambition. The rest of the story is about how Kelu manages to inspire hundreds of local men and women to revolt against the Portuguese.
Written by Shankar Ramakrishnan, Urumi’s depiction of 16th century Kerala is a far cry from any other period film we have seen in recent times. The film doesn’t bank upon grand sets and visual effects to inspire awe among the viewers; however Santosh Sivan weaves magic through his camera as he captures vast landscapes drenched in rain. There are incredibly large number of close-up shots on the lead actors, particularly on Prithviraj and Genelia, who plays the role of Ayesha, a warrior princess. There are plenty of motifs throughout the film. In one scene, Vasco Da Gama spills pepper on the map of Kerala to show his desire to conquer new kingdoms. And water is another motif which depicts pure love blossoming between Kelu and Ayesha.
Genelia is a major revelation in the film and she did put in a lot of effort especially in the action sequences. Performances by Prabhu Deva, Nithya Menon, Amole Gupte and Jagathy Sreekumar are top notch; while Prithviraj dazzles in action sequences. Arya makes a cameo as a fierce warrior. Aided by brilliant cinematography and superb background score by Deepak Dev, the film’s action choreography is dazzling. However, bad dubbing and dialogues take away the sheen to a certain extent.
The film depicts a culture and lifestyle which does take some effort to appreciate; however, if you are a history aficionado, Urumi is an important film you cannot afford to miss. Santosh Sivan does take some cinematic liberties to create dream like sequences involving Vidya Balan in one instance, but the seriousness of the theme and visual storytelling should not be overlooked. You may not be totally in awe after the film, but very few films capture your attention like Urumi. Go watch it. At least, there’s a lot to learn from these so called ‘art-house’ films.
(This review was first published in ‘Hans India’ newspaper on August 21, 2011)