A new discovery this weekend – Kannada films are being shown in Melbourne! I found out about the weekend screening of Ugramm thanks to a message from my Hindi group and Roopesh at Kannada Movies Melbourne. What’s even better is the news that there are more Kannada releases planned for later on in the year, and if the crop of recent films from Bangalore are anything to go by, they will definitely be worth catching on the big screen.
Ugramm is an action thriller that released in India back in February and has since become a major hit for director Prashanth Neel and its stars Srimurali and Haripriya. Interestingly for me, the film starts with the story of the reincarnation of Vishnu as the half-man, half-lion Narasimha and provides an explanation of the title, which the film website tells me means ‘momentous anger induced by a great period of tolerance’. I appreciate that Kannada has one word that says all of that so simply and it does sum up the storyline quite handily too.
After the initial animated explanation there is more background as a young Agastya witnesses his father’s death at the hands of a gangster, and begins his friendship with another young boy, Bala. At the same time Jai Jagadish (as the heroine’s father) is forced to leave India after exposing the smuggling and criminal activities of gang-leader turned politician Shivarudra Lingaiya (Avinash). So having set the scene, it’s time for action! And there is plenty of that. The modern-day story starts when Nitya ((Haripriya) leaves her father in Sydney to visit her mother’s grave in India. No sooner does she get off the plane, than gangsters intent on settling the old score with her father kidnap her. Luckily for Nitya, Agastya (Srimurali) arrives just in the nick of time to rescue her, and ends up taking her home to stay with his mother – what else could he possibly do?
Naturally our hero Agastya is a one-man fighting machine, who knows how to hit his victims so that they go down hard and stay down. The fight scenes against a succession of different gangsters are completely over the top, but they are well choreographed and Srimurali is suitably grim as the reluctant hero. That’s the whole ‘momentous anger induced by a great period of tolerance’ bit. The body count is high as many faceless gangsters are repeatedly smashed to the ground to the accompaniment of loud and intrusive background music. However, like similar scenes in most Telugu movies, the violence is a little too cartoonish to take seriously. Best of all are the moments where the last few villains standing turn tail and run rather than face Agasta and his momentous anger.
Meanwhile, in between the fight scenes, Nitya has to learn how to cook while dealing with a way of life completely different to how she grew up. Romance blossoms as Nitya gets instruction in the names of different vegetables from Agastya, and even persuades him to help her cook. Although Haripriya’s role is relatively small, her character is better developed than most heroines, and she does get the chance to be more than just a pretty face. Since her character was a girl raised in Sydney I was expecting some totally inappropriate wardrobe choices, but for a change the costume department got it just right. Haripriya is also a lovely dancer, and I was particularly impressed by her ability to dance convincingly in flip-flops. There are a few brief glimpse in this song.
There is a brief comedy track based on two other guys living in the house, but I didn’t quite understand exactly what their relationship was to Agastya and his mother, and no subtitles meant that most of it passed me by. It must have been funny though, as the rest of the audience were laughing at their antics.
The second half moves away from the developing romance between Agastya and Nitya to explain Agastya’s past and how he ended up working as a mechanic and resisting fighting unless there is no other choice. The fights here are more menacing and there are some genuinely disturbing scenes as gangsters wreak havoc on the locals in the town of Mughor. There are a plethora of different gangs and they are all equably interchangeable, particularly since a pre-requisite for gang membership seems to be a bad eighties style perm, and an inability to see that attacking Agastya is bound to turn out badly. Agastya’s youthful friend is another gangster Bala (Tilak Shekar) and the second half focuses on their relationship and the reasons why Agastya finally moved away and got out of the gangster business.
While the tale of a gangster redeemed is not particularly novel, Ugramm delivers a few new twists and overall the story is well told with excellent characterisations and good performances from the main leads. The added complication of Nitya and her back story helps keep the story from being overcome by the action sequences and actually helps keep everything moving long. The support actors are also impressive with Atul Kulkarni appearing briefly as Shivarudra Lingaiya’s son Dheeraj (although I couldn’t quite understand the importance of his character), while Padmaja Rao is good as Agastya’s mother.
Although the background music is at times overwhelming, mainly because it is just too loud, the songs by Ravi Basrur are good and well-placed in the narrative to provide a breathing space from the high energy action scenes. The film also looks amazing, perhaps not surprising since cinematography is by the well-known Ravi Varman, although the addition of black screens in between the action is distracting and does disrupt the flow at times.
Ugramm is a well made gangster film that does perhaps overdo the violence, but makes up for it with a good storyline, sharp editing and excellent performances. Definitely well worth a watch for fans of the genre, although if you didn’t manage to catch it at the weekend here in Australia that will mean waiting for the DVD. Unless of course the recently reported remakes in Telugu and Tamil release here first!