Pawan Kumar is the rare writer-director who does justice to the job descriptions on either side of the hyphen. U Turn, his follow-up to the buzzy and justly acclaimed Lucia, begins with a lovely scene, in an auto, between Rachana (Shraddha Srinath) and her mother. The scene is essentially to establish that the mother is leaving on a trip, and Rachana will be alone for the rest of the film – and Pawan Kumar could have achieved this by simply having the mother wave goodbye as Rachana closed the door. But this auto ride gently introduces the road as a major character, and it gives the characters the opportunity to talk, and through this talk, we learn about Rachana, her family (there’s a brother with visa problems), her mother’s exasperation with her unmarried status (which lets us know she’s single and available), her impulsive boldness (which makes her take on the auto driver, and explains her future actions), her determined and independent nature (which will explain, later, why she invites danger home)… In this short stretch, Pawan Kumar fleshes out a whole character. It’s the screenwriter’s equivalent of the four-minute mile.
But wait. There’s more. Eventually, we see that this mother-daughter scene forms a loose parallel with scenes of another mother-daughter on the road. Pawan Kumar is tricky like that. It’s no surprise that the title comes with a graphic that suggests a maze of U-turns. This story – about the consequences of an illegal U-turn motorists take on a busy road in Bangalore – keeps looping in on itself, and it sees sinister U-turns everywhere, even in an “I Love U” text message. Heck, the camera itself does a U-turn at the beginning, first showing us an inverted shot of a road and then righting itself. Soon, the second major character is introduced – again, on the road. And when we follow him back home, we see a troubled family, with a wife who wants to enrol their son in day care and get back to work. Another writer would have made this a happy family. But the dysfunction brings with it a sense of doom.
At one level, U Turn is a gruesome PSA about what’s going to happen to you when you break road rules. People start dying, and somehow Rachana is connected. At first, she’s just your average intern at a newspaper. Working late on stories. Talking to a friend about an office crush. And finally summoning up the guts to ask the man (crime reporter Aditya, played by Dilip Raj) out. (Again, lots of good writing in these conversations.) But everything changes when she’s picked up by the cops. (Roger Narayan is very good as sub-inspector Nayak.) Rachana was looking for a story – she now finds herself in one. It’s a great hook. U-Turn is not as ambitious as Lucia. (That film had a lot more U-turns.) This time, Pawan Kumar is just out to spin a good yarn – and that he does with flair. The first half is so tight and tense, I kept thinking, “The answer to this mystery had better be worth it.”
But the latter half feels loose and is a bit of a letdown. It’s still pretty watchable, and the director keeps pushing himself (and his story) as much as possible. We think we know the who and the why behind the deaths, but that’s not all: there’s another who, whose identity is still unknown. But the answers are underwhelming – the final revelation plays out like something Mahesh Bhatt would have written for an Emraan Hashmi horror franchise. But Shraddha Srinath, who exudes intensity like a perfume, holds the film together. It’s good to see a heroine at the centre of this kind of story – it’s usually a male-dominated genre. Aditya, on the other hand, is the “love interest,” reducing to wondering why Rachana is not picking up his calls. You think his crime-reporting skills will come of use – instead, he gets the “damsel in distress” duties. It’s up to her to save him. This gender twist is another smart little U-turn.
- Pawan Kumar = see here
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