Oruthee Movie Review: A Mostly Engaging Underdog Drama Elevated By Its Lead Actors

Oruthee repurposes the biggest action movie cliche to set up a David versus Goliath battle where the pursuit isn’t merely for a bag of money or a gold chain

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Cast: Navya Nair, Vinayakan, Saiju Kurup

Director: VK Prakash

For a film that marks the comeback of a major heroine, it’s fascinating how Oruthee revolves around not one, but two major chases. It even opens with one when a committed police officer (Vinayakan) tries to hunt down a car full of criminals who are in the business of transporting black money. The cuts are quick and the idea behind Gopi Sundar’s dramatic score is to not only set the ball rolling for a thriller, but to also establish this officer’s personality as both duty-bound and daring. Even with this heroic entry, the writing goes a step further to strip him of all the heroics we’re expecting. A senior officer calls, demands that he abandons the chase midway and forces him to retreat to escort duty for MLAs waiting for the highest bidder to purchase their allegiance. Despite his intention and position, the chase ends with him being as helpless as anyone else, towing the line set by those in power.

It takes another hour for Oruthee to tie this strand of information to another chase, but its implications are different now. Radhamani (Navya Nair) and her son are now running behind a criminal who has stolen her gold chain, and this is where the police officer gets to finish what he began. Yet even this chase is about one woman’s desperation to keep her family together rather than it playing out like a display of heroism. Oruthee repurposes the biggest action movie cliche to set up a David versus Goliath battle where the pursuit isn’t merely for a bag of money or a gold chain. Both Radhamani and the officer are pursuing justice, even if it could end up in a losing battle. And as the film leaves you with the lasting image of a desperate mother and her son chasing a petty criminal, it does not forget to remind one of society’s apathy that leads to such situations.

This battle of the underdog is a theme the film marks visually right from the start. So when we first visit Radhamani’s family and her home in the island of Vypin, we also see Kochi’s skyline located right across the lake. Like giants towering over ants, the image of these daunting skyscrapers sets the mood for the metaphorical giants Radhamani must take on in the film’s central conflict from her tiny home and limited resources.

Which is why we connect strongly with Radhamani because it feels like her predicament could happen to anyone. And when we learn, along with Radhamani, that a set of powerful jewellers have cheated her by selling her a fake gold chain, our instincts too are to accept it as fate and move on. With a husband who lives away and not many around to help her, it becomes her duty to take them on, even if it involves risking everything, including dignity.

Written around these broad plot points, Oruthee though is a film that comes together better in the head than it does on screen. It has an easy pace that takes its time to set up Radhamani’s everyday routine and although it contributes to creating a realistic connect with her situation, it postpones important events until much later, when it begins to feel hurried. A family song, placed early on, contributes to this feeling just like how the film lingers for too long on an indulgent sequence featuring a Thiruvathirakali. This indulgence is also true of the second chase, although the feeling is by design because it’s based on a real-life event that went on for many hours.

These are odd choices because the film’s central plot is tight enough to hold it all together. And because Navya Nair is already a loved actor, the film may have taken the leap of faith by expecting us to be with her, even without all that exposition. But it’s eventually her performance along with Vinayakan’s that keeps us invested through their ordeals when the challenges keep on getting bigger and harder. Vinayakan too gets a fuming police officer role that plays against the image the industry has placed on him. Even when the film dips in energy, a single dialogue from him is able to bring it all back to where it began. Through Navya, we see the faces of a hundred everyday women who might breakdown when pushed against the wall but they’re also strong enough to fight the good fight instead of settling for a selfish compromise. And in the scene where she bursts out in an emotion that’s part relief, part exhaustion, we remember the actress who used to make us cry at will through her performance in films like Nandanam. Oruthee, despite its flaws, is engaging as an examination of two ordinary people and how they emerge out of an extraordinary situation.

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"Vishal Menon: Vishal dropped out of law school to focus on his fondness for film, particularly mainstream Indian cinema. He is a film critic, previously with The Hindu after a stint at Deccan Chronicle and Reuters News. If you thought the book was better than the movie, don’t tell Vishal.."
  
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