Ullozhukku Review: An Astounding Urvashi Headlines A Tender Film On Love That Defies Conventions

Urvashi is a quiet rage throughout the film, stirring the frame even when she is sitting still and staring at the abyss that has opened up in her being
Ullozhukku Review
Ullozhukku Review

Writer and Director: Christo Tomy

Cast: Parvathy Thiruvothu, Urvashi, Arjun Radhakrishnan

Available in: Theatres

Duration: 123 minutes

The first few events in Ullozhukku (Under Current), directed by Christo Tomy, happen in quick succession. Life falls through Anju’s (Parvathy) fingers before she can chart a plan. From a wide-eyed sales girl at a textile shop furtively smiling at her lover, she transforms into a bride posing for awkward post-wedding pictures on a backwater boat, her eyes heavy from what was likely a teary night. The film then moves to the old, spacious house of her husband, Thomas Kutty (Prasanth Murali), and his doting mother, Leelamma (Urvashi), in Kuttanad, where time, like a boat engine whirring to a halt at the dock, comes to a pressing stillness.

Christo has a talent for amplifying the ticking of the clock. The film is most eloquent when the characters wait in silence or stumble through halting conversations, managing to express just a fraction of what they would like to say. Meanings slither out of the gaps. 

It isn’t just the passage of time that seems to possess a consciousness in this subdued drama. The house, perched by a backwater lake that threatens to flood, exerts a breathing, domineering presence, tenderly shot by cinematographer Shehnad Jalal. Most of the drama unfolds within its walls, quietly, in the secrecy of bedrooms or the dimly lit kitchen. The interiors are primly arranged even in the face of the unfolding tension. The island appears eerily remote, cut off from humanity by a labyrinth of green water bodies constantly refilled by monsoon rains. Melancholy and a sense of foreboding freely flow from this setting, deepening the grief and crisis the characters are going through.

Parvathy in Ullozhukku
Parvathy in Ullozhukku

Soon after the wedding, Thomas Kutty falls terribly ill, and Anju is forced to assume the role of a caregiver. Leelamma, the grieving mother, treats her with great love and kindness but remains oblivious to the palpable unhappiness that has settled on her. The narrative proceeds linearly, carrying the audience along the trajectory of Anju’s marital life. When she reestablishes contact with her lover, Rajeev (Arjun Radhakrishnan, voiced by Roshan Mathew), a young man who drifts from one odd job and promise to another, a storm begins to brew on the horizon, eventually erupting on the day Thomas Kutty dies, with his funeral delayed by a deluge.

Ullozhukku is Christo’s third fiction film, following two award-winning shorts, Kanyaka (Virgin) in 2015 and Kamuki (Sweetheart) in 2016, which he made as a film student in Kolkata. The themes of caregiving, desire, and unplanned pregnancy that he explored in the shorts recur in the feature film. Incidentally, in Kanyaka, he used Urvashi, the film star, as a motif of worldliness that the protagonist — a young nun doubling as a caregiver for her senior — struggles to resist. His films also share a similar formal quality— nothing in the frames looks out of place or wildly spontaneous. Scenes unfold with great restraint, capturing the central characters in shallow focus.

A still from the film
A still from the film

Ullozhukku focuses on how the two protagonists – Anju, who is desperate to leave, and Leelamma, grappling with grief as she tries to make sense of everything – respond to the engulfing crisis. The incidents of funeral and pregnancy, along with the men associated with them, exist on the sidelines, while the film trains its eyes on the women, whose interactions throughout the film feel like a single conversation fragmented into little parts. Anju’s unborn baby is initially assumed to be Thomas Kutty’s, briefly bringing joy to Leelamma, who deliriously begins to prepare for the child’s arrival. When it dawns on the young woman that what she truly wants isn’t unscathed honour but freedom, she reveals her decision to leave to her mother-in-law, implying the existence of a lover. 

Ullozhukku breaks down the crisis into bite-sized pieces, finding a heart in each bit. Despite their differences, Leelamma and Anju share a deep sense of orphanhood — they are women who grew up elsewhere and were brought into this house through marriages that imposed thankless caregiving duties upon them. They are immigrants planted into a new country. It must be this tacit sisterhood that prompts Leelamma to reprimand her own daughter when she accuses Anju of betrayal. In one of the film’s rare instances featuring a crowd, Leelamma sits by the freezer bearing the corpse, as a group of young women and nuns sing hymns behind her. She hesitates before glancing at Anju, and in what feels like a tight embrace, she reaches out and pulls her close. A moment so delicately heavy. 

A still from the film
A still from the film

The film largely excludes the community — extended family, villagers, or the church, the typical crowd that gathers at a funeral site — eliminating all ambient noise. The flipside to this storytelling is that it makes the narrative feel monotonous, circling back on itself. This becomes apparent around the midway point when the film seems to lose its natural rhythm. If one is familiar with the recent trends in Malayalam cinema, the events of the final hour might feel like too simplistic a twist — the reckless good-for-nothing turns out to have a poor moral conscience.

But it all builds to a final shot that hits hard and deep, scarring and heartwarming all at once.

And at the centre of the film is one towering performance. One might assume playing a grieving mother is straightforward — wait until you see what Urvashi does with the role, painting it in colours you might barely recognise, crafting an intricate and deeply personal portrait of motherhood. Parvathy, her co-actor, is immensely competent, but the cracks in her voice acting are discernible. Urvashi, on the other hand, is a quiet rage throughout the film, stirring the frame even when she is sitting still and staring at the abyss that has opened up in her being. Everything she does – pauses, changes in her voice, the delicate movement of her eyebrows, or the pace of her steps – leaves a trail of meaning; a rare and rich performance worth close study. 

Urvashi in Ullozhukku
Urvashi in Ullozhukku

It is tricky to predict how Ullozhukku will perform at the box office. This isn’t a film meant to impress a crowd fed on mainstream adrenaline-pumpers, although there’s no telling what the film’s strengths might do to any viewer. In the end, Anju chooses a freedom that is inner and muted over one that is more apparent, vibrant, and material. Regardless of what this choice entails or promises, the film’s championing of tenderness and empathy until the very end, in its gentle and unhurried language, is deeply rewarding. 

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