Uppena Movie Review: An age-old love story revitalised by impressive writing
Although the talking point of Uppena will definitely be that shocker of a climax, it is impressive how organic the lead up to that scene feels
At one point in Uppena, Bebamma (Krithi Shetty) calls Aasi (Panja Vaisshnav Tej) a corpus spongiosum. It is something almost all our onscreen women would have wanted to say to the men in their lives. It loosely translates to, “You are a d*ck”. However, in Uppena, this is a term of endearment and not an insult. This is one of the many pleasant surprises in the film. Although the basic premise of Uppena may remind us of the four-decade-old Seeethakoka Chilaka (1981), Buchi Babu brings in enough inventiveness to keep the proceedings fresh.
For a love story that wants to be one of epic proportions, it is anger that actually drives Uppena. Aasi is the quintessential ‘angry young man with a heart of gold’. Bebamma's father Rayannam (Vijay Sethupathi) is the quintessential ‘casteist and classist angry old man’. Bebamma is haplessly caught between these two angry men but eventually redeems herself with an angry outburst of her own. It is these portions that are the most engrossing because the central love story requires a certain leap of faith.
Director: Buchi Babu Sana
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Panja Vaisshnav Tej, Krithi Shetty, Sai Chand
The romance between the star-crossed lovers blossoms through sweet nothings and charming meet-cutes. This is the kind of love where sparks fly when bodies touch during a bike ride. The kind of love where one saves the sand from their first date. The kind of love where the words “I love you” are written as “Love you I” because even ‘love’ shouldn’t come between them! While all this might not necessarily warm the cockles of our hearts, it does manage to leave us with a smile. It also helps that Shamdat’s wonderful visuals serve as a beautiful accompaniment to Devi Sri Prasad’s killer album. It is through the songs that we acquaint ourselves with the lives of Bebamma and Aasi. Full points to Krithi for walking on the right side of the thin line between innocence and irritating. Vaisshnav makes a decent debut, not-so-effortlessly oscillating between naivety and anger. Special mention to the writing and performances in Aasi's scenes with his dad (an impressive Sai Chand). Considering the trajectory of his role, it is quite impressive that Vaisshnav Tej chose Uppena as his debut. While the innocence of the leads is initially infectious, there is only so much that their charm can carry. We are then left with the villainy of Vijay Sethupathi to help us sail past the saccharine goodness. And boy, does he deliver. Rayannam not only has to safeguard his casteist pride by separating the lovers, he also has to fulfill his classist/capitalist dream of constructing a fishing yard. It is with the latter that the worlds of Rayannam and Aasi collide on multiple levels.
Buchi Babu’s writing and Vijay Sethupathi's performance ensure Rayannam is not a cardboard villain. Take, for instance, the scene where Rayannam is offered a glass of tea by his accomplice. The tea has less sugar, and when asked if he wants a fresh brew, Rayannam asks for sugar. He pops it in his mouth, drinks the tea, and says something on the lines of, “Why waste something just because it is not to our liking...” This sums up the kind of person Rayannam is — his anger isn't blind, it's measured. This characterisation plays to the strengths of Vijay Sethupathi, who likes to bring a nonchalance to his roles.
Although the talking point of Uppena will definitely be that shocker of a climax, it is impressive how organic the lead up to that scene feels. Buchi Babu doesn't place all his bets on that climax. And while various issues are discussed through the film, it is toxic masculinity that is primarily addressed in Uppena. Malayalam cinema has been dishing out some solid films in that avenue, and it's good to see Telugu cinema too dip its toes into such hot-button topics. We may have seen soft-spoken heroes before in Telugu films, but it is only recently that the very idea of masculinity is being questioned. For an industry that is built upon machismo, Uppena is an important and original film. It's a film that makes its women look at the men in their lives and talk about them being a walking corpus spongiosum. Now that’s a huge wave of change.