Uriyadi 2 Review: Vijay Kumar seems to hold back his punches in this unfulfilling sequel
Vijay Kumar's second film doesn't come close to his first in terms of rawness and catharsis
Few films in the history of Tamil cinema have been as unapologetic about their deployment of violence as the 2016 indie gem, Uriyadi. The ruthlessness in it is cathartic; it’s the channelling of all the helplessness arising from perennial suppression by the powerful. You couldn’t but back those anonymous, unafraid students dealing the sort of payback many of us, in the face of injustice, have only dreamt of.
Cast: Vijay Kumar, Vismaya, Sudhakar, Abbas
Director: Vijay Kumar
The last three years, since the release of Uriyadi, have been quite eventful, politically speaking. Closer home, among other developments, the Sterlite protests occurred, police opened fire on a crowd, an environmental activist has since gone missing… It’s not been rosy at all. So, there’s definitely reason for another Uriyadi, and this perhaps is the motivation behind Uriyadi 2.
There’s a chemical factory — Paksino Private Limited (Pak-Sino? Pakistan and China?) — whose wilful negligence results in environmental pollution, death and protests. Crooked politicians look to utilise it for personal growth, amoral policemen await instructions, and the public… they are the victims. It’s all familiar. With such explosive material, with many years of accumulated frustration waiting to be channelised through revenge and cathartic violence… quite strangely, Vijay Kumar has made the film to fetch a U-certificate (because the production house, 2D Entertainment, is known for family-friendly films?). Mass murders happen, noxious gases asphyxiate children and pregnant women as they cough blood and die… it’s hardly child-relevant material. Why try to cater to them?
In Uriyadi, the key characters were unforgettable. Lenin, whose eyes breathed fire; his three friends, one of whom is referred to by his lack of height, the manipulative politician who can’t rise out of his godfather’s shadow, the two lecherous friends… In Uriyadi 2 though, I can barely remember anyone making a strong impression. Lenin’s here too, but he seems tired and broken, for some reason. In one scene, he tries to explain why the public hardly cares about such tragedies: “The problem is, we speak all these chemical terms; we must simplify them to get their attention.” The irony is, Uriyadi 2, is a tad guilty of the same. The gas leak in this film is a straightforward recreation of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, even if not in terms of scale. The leaked gas is the same: MIC (Methyl Isocyanate), and the process that results in the leak (water getting pumped in accidentally), is the same. There’s more. Much like in that case, here too, the company doesn’t reveal the nature of the gas for many days, causing many avoidable deaths and injuries. In between all this tragedy, questions are also asked of god. At the beginning when Lenin prays, and his girlfriend wants to know what he’s praying for, he cheekily says, “For the existence of god.” Later, as people fall in large numbers, there’s a shot of a woman crying for assistance outside a temple. She doesn’t get it, of course.
On evidence of his two films so far, it’s clear that Vijay Kumar’s a filmmaker who loves his details. This is why the scene leading up to the Paksino gas leak is as patiently executed. Pipes, meters, evaluations, machines, confused workers… you really get a sense of how it may have unravelled — if you’re into that sort of thing. You see this detailing in another scene too: the one concerning the final moments of Lenin’s friend. How he gets to a hospital, how the hospital strips him, how they attach the pulse oximeter and the chest leads, how they perform CPR… all of this helps make the loss feel real, the dead human, real. I quite loved it, considering that deaths so often so easily become statistics after such events. This need for intimacy is also why a lengthy assassination attempt sequence is shot with cameras at shoulder-level, and up and close to the characters. When you are really into a film as you were with Uriyadi, this sort of realism really adds to the experience.
There are those little directorial touches too. A man has died, and ominous times are set to arrive. Vijay foreshadows this with an intimate aerial shot of the factory chimney, as he pans past its frightening void. It reminded me of a lovely touch in Uriyadi, when he confirms the girl’s interest in Lenin, by showing the colourless liquid in the beaker he holds, turn pink. In Uriyadi 2 though, the romantic angle — the girl’s given a job though, thank god — doesn’t seem half as inspired, or half as well integrated.
Individual moments in Uriyadi 2 seem memorable, but they don’t quite come together as they should. There’s a caste angle to the girl’s relationship with Lenin, and her mother warns her of dire consequences. I loved that the girl throws her a steady stare of deep condescension, which says so much more than anything she could have put in words. There’s a powerful scene of a policemen beckoning Lenin disrespectfully, and he responds in kind. But there aren’t a whole lot of them. What I loved consistently in this film though is Govind Vasantha’s music. His background score stands out, especially in one lengthy sequence leading up to the gas leak. The music — like in the Interstellar waves scene — rises to a crescendo, eventually drowning out all the voices.
The biggest problem in this film which painstakingly tries to set up the stakes, is that there’s no real memorable payback. The excitement at the end is too little, too fleeting. There’s no question over the importance of an anti-establishment film such as this, but you can’t shake off the notion that Vijay Kumar has held back his punches here. I don’t know if the pressure of securing a U-certificate hung over him, but hopefully, he won’t hold back with his next. That’s the Vijay Kumar we loved in Uriyadi.