Review: Unnale Unnale

Posted on May 7, 2007


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Almost nothing goes right in a love story about two people who are wrong for each other.

May 7, 2007 – A RECENT ISSUE of Anandha Vikatan featured an interview with the actor Simbu, and when asked about his much-publicised love affair that ended just a little while ago, he had this to say: “En kaadhal ellaame nijam! Ippo vilagi nikkalaam. Aana ellor manasukkulleyum oru theatre irukku. Adhil dhideer dhideer-nu pazhaya padam odumthavirkave mudiyaadhu.â€? This has got to be one of the great quotes about romance and the movies, for what he’s implying is that they’re inseparable. Even if we’re not physically inside a theatre or in front of a television set, we can never prevent flashbacks from occurring in our minds, inside our heads. (Of course, these replays needn’t always be about love – you could be remembering the face of the auto driver who drove you home and then arm-twisted you into coughing up an extra fifty, but who wants to hear a great quote about that?) The movies are made for romance. There’s something about seeing a love story unfold on the screen, as opposed to merely reading one – and that comes from the little things the actors do. The way the girl smiles, say, or the way the boy belts out a line of a dulcet duet, or the way the violins behind the scenes hit a high when boy and girl come together… And then I went and saw Unnale Unnale, and everything I’ve rhapsodised about this far went poof into the stale air of the cinema hall. At one point during this frustratingly ragged film, I actually thought I’d be very happy if I never saw a love story unfold on screen again.

Unnale Unnale details a love triangle that centres on Karthik (newcomer Vinay, who delivers his lines of dialogue as if chewing invisible food with his mouth open). He’s a compulsive flirt who falls in love with Jhansi (Sada), whose puritanical attitudes towards itches south of the navel would make the Victorians appear a bunch of naked hippies. A girl is entitled to her views, of course, but what’s galling is that we’re asked to buy this love angle as if it were actually possible. There’s not one scene – one scene – that tells us why these two would consider spending a minute in each other’s company, let alone a lifetime. Conventional wisdom is that opposites attract, but many people who’ve been in love will tell you that opposites, sometimes, merely repel – and badly too. Director Jeeva – what a comedown from the immensely likeable 12-B and Ullam Ketkume – builds his entire first half around the fact that Karthik and Jhansi met and loved and split up. He wants us to have visceral reactions about this arc of the story – but how can you even begin to care about plot points that were telegraphed to you the minute you laid eyes on these characters? So we move on to the second half, where Karthik and Jhansi meet again in Australia – only this time, there’s Jhansi’s colleague Deepika (Tanisha), who falls for Karthik even as she tries to patch things up between him and Jhansi. Again, none of this plays out in a manner that’s remotely probable or engaging.

The great tragedy about Unnale Unnale is that, had it worked, it would have been one for the ages – despite liberal helpings of entire scenes (and concepts) from Dil Chahta Hai and Kal Ho Naa Ho and that silly Jennifer Lopez rom-com where the heel of her shoe gets stuck in a manhole cover. I don’t recall many Tamil movies that were about falling in love with the same person all over again – the first time without a clue about him, the second time after fully knowing what makes him tick (and knowing that this time around, there’s competition). But the performances are quite bad and none of the actors makes it easy to care about how they end up. Vinay is personable enough (in the tradition of Jeeva’s other softie heroes like Shaam and Arya), but the only towering aspect about him is how tall he is. (This results in one of the big laugh-out-loud moments, when he stands in the way of a friend and the latter exclaims, “Dei… building maadhiri nikkaadhe!â€?) Sada walks through the entire film with a single expression, a wrinkled-up nose and perpetually pursed lips that make it appear that she’s just walked into a particularly nasty cloud of flatulence. And Tanisha is absolutely dreadful. The movements of her lips have nothing to do with the lines she’s supposed to be delivering, and my instant thought was that she has a great future ahead of her if she ever decides to take up playback singing for Tamil cinema.

Harris Jayaraj, as always, gives Jeeva a superb soundtrack, but the songs don’t really acquire a life of their own with the picturisations. Ilamai ullasam, for instance, is clumsily staged at the scene of a wedding, and Vaikasi nilave is one of those generic warrior-and-princess conceits that has been yielding diminishing returns since Thalapathy. But why moan about the music, which at least provides a happy diversion from the talkie portions! It’s been some time since I saw such a concentration of crackpot ideas (read cinematic contrivances) in a single place – like Jhansi hiring a hooker to test Karthik’s resolve, or Karthik’s friend (a listless Raju Sundaram) going on and on about the fun they had with girls at a party (naturally, Jhansi is within earshot), or Jhansi getting inspired by the science behind insemination attempts at a bull farm, or the fact that everyone is connected to everyone else (the girl that Karthik meets on a plane just happens to be his ex-girlfriend’s colleague-to-be, and so on), or the twisty climax that must have seemed good on paper but comes off as utterly flaky on screen.

And did I mention that everyone talks and talks, and when we think they’re done talking, they pick up where they left off and talk some more? They talk about the differences between men and women. They talk about the nature of love. And I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of other things they talk about, except that I stopped listening at some point. Jeeva knows that he’s dealing with a visual medium – how could he not, considering how wonderful his cinematography is – and yet he stuffs his film with endless variations of the same bit of dialogue, and after a while, you get the feeling you’re seeing the same scene over and over. There are some good funny bits, especially at the beginning, but the one sequence I took away was the one that introduces us to Karthik. Just a minute earlier, we’ve seen a boy and girl (boyfriend and girlfriend?) quarrelling. We don’t know who these two are – we see them from a distance, and their dialogues are drowned out by music – but it appears that the boy is pleading with the girl to forgive him for something he’s done, and she refuses. So the dejected boy turns away from the platform they’re on and walks onto the street blindly, right in front of an oncoming car. And as a crowd gathers around the grotesquely spread-eagled accident victim, we notice that one of the curious faces belongs to Karthik. He looks and he walks away, unaware that very soon he’s going to get hit by a truck himself (figuratively, of course). This sequence tells you everything the film is going to be about (the vagaries of love, and such), and it accomplishes all of this without a single spoken word.

Posted in: Cinema: Tamil