What is the stuff that stars, or the lead actor we have here, are made out of? Uttama Villain, in this context, on a surface-level and even beyond comes across an indulgent meta-film that sub-consciously tries to re-assert those answers.
It’s just not the film we’re talking about anymore. It’s the fascination of many gifted kids in Kamal Hassan,the actor,the singer,the lyricist,the screen-writer and the producer that has him impressioning his presence so much on a product. This could have surely been easier to digest, if it wasn’t for its complexity-craving appeal in each of its frames.
The fact of an extremely appealing yet an abstract story giving him the necessary license to do so, is a smart excuse to distract us from his over-doings. It’s about how much we can take out of a single film that’s really desirous of a magnum-opus aroma with the intentional layering,drama and the longing for the medium.
The narrative in a way suggests about how a film with a star isn’t just the execution of the written-word onto the screen. Ramesh Aravind appears to be a assembler of a poster-boy tribute to the actor in the star. His position as a director seems doesn’t seem much big a name, given the credentials of his lead actor put to display here.
The initial platform is actually flattering enough. A film star leading a mysterious life, not earning much respect or attention from his son and desperately needing re-invention with the times. He’s an entertainer for the crowds, earning the allegorical title, Manoranjan mentored by Margadarsi, the nearly autobiographical K Balachander.
The literature-rich name-play ahead grabs serious attention. The doctor is named Arpana (sacrifice). The wife, a generous Varalakshmi (the goddess of boons). The father-in-law,Poornachander (full-moon, also meaning the circle of life). We suspect any of this is connected to its eighth-century folk-lore sub-plot, but it isn’t.
The writer in Kamal is full of ambition, much like his recent attempts at intertwining genres with Manmadhan Ambu (soulful love and slapstick comedy), Vishwaroopam (docu-drama plot given a commercial coating) and Dasavatharam (science, mythology and romance). At once, we are even hinted of a minor Shivaite-Vaishnavite clash alike the latter.
The periodic setting, meanwhile isn’t integrated with the seamlessness we expect. The beautiful parallels, however make up for it. This very thread explains the liberty that art provides which life in actuality doesn’t. In this context, the idea is also to bring in a black-comedy like relief to a heart-wrenching drama, which however falls quite flat. Pooja Kumar in these portions like another frame in this phase suggests, appears a fish out of water. There’s hardly an attempt to bring in any aura or a presence.
The hullaballo for the visuals is worthy of a note, despite its overkill. At a point, Manoranjan’s manager has to come out of darkness in a preview theatre and move towards the projector lights to read a letter. In another scene, where the relevance of a title, Uttama Villain, is probably justified, we see the use of a mirror as a fair indicator, rather the true face of an actor, a reflection of a man. This is further amplified when he removes grease-paint with water in coherence with another letter, speaking of how simple, the star, otherwise is. Then, there’s a literal ‘window’ of hope and red-blot on the face to portray his darker shades too. But, let’s leave it at that for now.
Andrea gets a dream-role for starters, but she makes a mess of it with her light-weight touches in something that needed a lot of depth. We feel Kamal’s yet again responsible for such a scenario such where he often toys with his muses in the cast and the crew. He’s nearly enroute to create something that’s so incredibly personal, stirring and soulful. But what he does? He primarily brings himself ahead of the script and next, over-trusts his resources. In the case of K Balachander, K Vishwanath, who make an excellent case of directors turning out to be such fine performers and Ghibran, the choices are right.
We hear nearly all the South-Indian languages including Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil. A Bangalorean setting is a smart one too. Theyyam, as a dance-form adds to the diversity, but wouldn’t Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi have managed equal justice in relevance to the place? The references to immortality in films, or art in general is portrayed with a rare sincerity, especially with the Hiranya-Prahlada play to end it all.
Kamal Hassan gives it everything to the film, which he uses more as a toy to self-reference himself. Blame it on his indulgence for the essence not reaching out the way it should have, but we can’t discount that for laziness. The fact that we still see Uttama Villain as a commercial film that has space for the not-so-rosy sides in relationships, the secrets in a man’s life, as uncinematic as we can expect, speaks of its accomplishments. Some more air to breathe would’ve helped though.