Acid on a woman's face. That line encapsulates a terrible, tragic narrative. You know the beats – love, one-sided or reciprocated, rejection, revenge followed by the trauma of living with gruesome disfiguration. Debutant director Manu Ashokan, writers Bobby and Sanjay and actor Parvathy Thiruvothu take this familiar arc and create a deeply moving and empowering story of a woman who refuses to let the horror of her circumstances defeat her.
Uyare means 'high'. And that's exactly what Pallavi does – both literally and figuratively. Since she was 14, Pallavi has dreamed of being a pilot. But her ambitious plans fall apart after her boyfriend throws acid on her. And yet, she doesn't give up her dream of taking flight. There are many things that make this film so powerful, starting with the writing – Bobby and Sanjay create a living, breathing woman who proves herself to be stronger than any superhero. But she is also vulnerable and pliable enough to be an active participant in an emotionally abusive relationship that eventually turns toxic. Pallavi invests years of her life in trying to make Govind happy. She pursues her career with single-minded determination but she also allows herself to be a doormat. These contradictions make her human.
Thankfully, Bobby and Sanjay pay attention to the other characters also. So Govind isn't a cardboard villain. He's failing, insecure and so broken that only Pallavi can make him whole. There's something instantly unnerving about Govind like he's a volcano waiting to explode. Asif Ali who plays him grasps his specific sickness. There's also Pallavi's father, played by the wonderful Siddique, who stands with her every inch of her arduous battle. In a terrific scene, Govind's father comes to Pallavi's father to beg him to ask her daughter to withdraw the case against his son. Pallavi walks in and without saying a word, just sits in front of Govind's father staring at him with her half-burned face. She says nothing and yet she forces him to confront the horror of what his son has done. He gets so uncomfortable that he has to leave.
This story could have easily tipped into overdramatic but director Manu Ashokan doesn't underline the horror. It's controlled and therefore more heartbreaking
Manu uses the disfiguration sparingly and effectively and thankfully the prosthetics are on point. Early on, Pallavi keeps her face hidden but as she becomes more sure of herself she exposes her burned side – it becomes a natural part of her. This story could have easily tipped into overdramatic but Manu doesn't underline the horror – yes, we do get a scene in which Pallavi removes her bandages for the first time in the hospital and we have to guess the extent of damage from the expression on her father's face. But he doesn't scream in horror or crumble. He looks stricken but stands strong for his daughter. It's controlled and therefore more heartbreaking.
Of course, Uyare is powered by Parvathy who delivers a remarkable performance. At no point does she allow you to pity Pallavi. But she doesn't play her as heroic either. You see the rage, bitterness, anguish and the struggle to keep afloat. And through this gamut of emotions, you see her inner strength and steely resolve.
This film isn't about inventive story-telling. Uyare is designed to push buttons
Uyare occasionally trips – some of the sequences in the tower control room and on the runaway seem amateurish and there are football-sized loopholes in logic. Also the character of Vishal, who comes in like a knight in shining armor, felt a little too-good-to-be-true. But Tovino Thomas plays him with such self-deprecating charm that it's easy to buy into it.
This film isn't about inventive story-telling. Uyare is designed to push buttons. At the end, Manu wants you to cry and cheer as Pallavi soars. I was doing both. I was also wondering why Hindi cinema doesn't offer more to Parvathy, who is easily one of the finest actors working today.
You can see the film on Netflix.