Durga Krishna, Indrans, Dhyan Sreenivasan in Udal
Durga Krishna, Indrans, Dhyan Sreenivasan in Udal

Udal Movie Review: Indrans, Durga Krishna excel in minimalist noir

The ambition of Udal is more in line with James Hadley Chase than Raymond Chandler or James M Cain
Rating:(3.5 / 5)

When male villains are a dime a dozen in Malayalam cinema, it's refreshing to witness a despicable female baddie who is unapologetic and relentless when it comes to decimating everything standing in the way of her freedom and joy. In Udal, Durga Krishna plays the archetypal femme fatale, the mainstay of a vast reservoir of noir fiction. Already a housewife and a mother, Shiny (Durga) is sick of the prevailing circumstances at her father-in-law's (Indrans) home. When the home nurse tending to his bed-ridden wife leaves, Shiny has to take over. For her, it's hell. She'd rather spend her time indulging in a salacious conversation with her boyfriend (Dhyan Sreenivasan). Meanwhile, he suspects whether he is the only man entertaining her.

Director: Ratheesh Reghunandhan
Cast: Indrans, Durga Krishna, Dhyan Sreenivasan

Anyone who has seen the acclaimed Stephen Lang-starrer Don't Breathe -- of a visually impaired man fighting home invaders -- will immediately bring up the plot similarity. But filmmaker-writer Ratheesh Reghunandhan's film is not exactly a home invasion thriller. He adds a wicked twist to that idea by adapting it to Malayali sensibilities. Unlike the Hollywood version, where the protagonist, played by Stephen Lang, was a character with negative shades, Ratheesh makes Indrans' Kuttichayan a relatively endearing character. He anchors him with a potent emotional undercurrent which becomes the catalyst for everything that happens later in the film.

In stories of this nature, the destination becomes quite clear to us early on. But excitement is found in discovering how the violence -- the cathartic sort -- plays out. And it's even more fun when you have an actor of Indrans' stature and physique on the other side wreaking havoc. Indrans, who has been stunning us with every new film in the last few years, reveals a dimension we haven't seen before. Given his diminutive appearance, one would naturally assume that he wouldn't be capable of pulling off some extraordinary moves. Still, one also thinks about the numerous possibilities when a man like Kuttichayan gets pushed to the extreme. The film requires you to suspend your disbelief to a certain extent. Brief suggestions, via dialogues and flashbacks, hint that he had indulged in acts of ferocity in his prime.  

Rated A for violence, sexual content and language, the film targets discerning adult audiences. However, to viewers already exposed to far more mature content on OTT platforms, the material in Udal would seem relatively tame. As for the aforementioned cathartic violence, the intensity of the bloodshed is muted slightly by staging it in minimal lighting. I don't mean that negatively. One gets to see enough to comprehend the degree of violence inflicted upon the tormentors. When you see some characters getting what they deserve, you clap internally.

Ratheesh populates his claustrophobic thriller with around 5-6 characters, but the count comes down gradually when all hell breaks loose. The walls get closer and closer. Dhyan is apt as Kiran, the fool taken on a rollercoaster ride from which there is no return. As the film progresses, he is no longer in charge. It's Shiny making all the decisions, and he has no option but to follow her and fulfil all her whims and fancies. Durga and Dhyan are to Udal what Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray were to Double Indemnity (1944), or what Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange were to The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981).  

The ambition of Udal, however, is more in line with James Hadley Chase than Raymond Chandler or James M Cain. It has the finesse of a small airport novel you read and then forget. But it's a decent effort, nevertheless. In the midst of its overwhelming darkness, Udal also finds some time for dark humour, like when Dhyan calls the names of three Hindu gods in three different instances. And seeing how vicious Shiny gets after a point, you'd think she would give Amy Dunne from Gone Girl a run for her money. Shiny is not, however, incapable of remorse. She exhibits her human side briefly before it completely disappears. She expresses it in one scene that recalled a similar moment with Tabu in Andhadhun. (Now that I think about the parallel, I feel Durga would've done well in Bhramam, the Malayalam remake of Andhadhun.) Shiny's actions haunt you because she makes you question what you would've done in her place.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Cinema Express