Exiting Manimaran’s Udhayam NH4, you feel some gratitude is in order. Thank you for the roving camerawork, which captures moody atmospherics instead of staring stupidly at the goings-on, like a village idiot frozen in fear as the king’s retinue passes by. Thank you for finding a context for a heroine who doesn’t speak good Tamil. (Rithika, played by Ashrita Shetty, is a Kannadiga.) Thank you for fleshing out the characters with lives beyond what is exigent to the plot. (An unseen wife and a sulking six-year-old son play an important part in the proceedings.) Thank you for a fast-paced narrative that incorporates dialogue on the move, between scene edits. (In other words, we don’t stop every time someone speaks. There’s very little dead space.) Thank you for humour that’s grafted organically onto the happenings, like a hilarious lip-lock. And most of all, thank you for not setting the leads on an Alpine landscape during a song stretch. The sole duet here is presented with no fuss, as simply a rite of passage in a love story.
If I seem a little effusive about things that we should be taking for granted, it’s because these things – all at once – are rarely granted to us. Udhayam NH4 gets going when Prabhu (an effectively low-key Siddharth) kidnaps Rithika, and her father, a ruthless politician, sets a gonzo cop (a terrific Kay Kay Menon) on his tail. Thereon we switch between the present and the past, through tightly interwoven flashbacks. The story is slight, but the treatment makes all the difference – whether the treatment of the love angle (Rithika’s confession of why she feels safe in Prabhu’s arms carries a touch of the novelistic; suddenly she becomes a real person), or the treatment of the hero’s ineluctable heroism (rescuing damsels in distress; those one-versus-many fights). Once Prabhu’s motives are revealed to us, the narrative loses some of its tautness – a sense of inevitability creeps in. But the constant infusion of colour keeps us hooked. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much at a cop telling his nagging wife he loves her.
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