In director Era. Saravanan’s imagination, Vengaivasal in Pudukottai is an ideal village. Not that the people there don’t have problems. Of course, they do. But they also have saviours. When a poor woman can’t afford a private hospital for her daughter’s childbirth, Mathangi (Jyothika) pawns her thaali to raise money. A casteist man harasses women, Vairavan (M. Sasikumar) jumps to set the man and his father right. A farmer who hasn’t paid EMI for his tractor loses it, Vairavan steals multiple tractors to teach the businessman a lesson. When a capitalist — rather unimaginatively called Adibhan (Kalaiyarasan), which means ‘owner’ — extracts groundwater, Vaathiyar (Samuthirakani) approaches the court.
In this ideal village, Udanpirappe is the story of Vairavan, whose much loved brother-in-law doesn’t speak to him. Stuck in between the two is his sister, Mathangi, who remains deliberately passive. One tragedy breaks the family. Another unites them several years later. There is nothing that offers any surprise or even newness in the film. In fact, there is a bit of narrative cheating that the writers employ to maintain suspense.
The biggest problem with Udanpirappe is that it chooses grandstanding dialogues over events and action. The entire first half is told to the audience through inane dialogue. For instance, there is a scene where the villagers visit Vairavan to insist that he remarry so he can have a vaarisu (heir). Instead of asking them to mind their own business, Vairavan sends his wife away and performs a grand monologue about fertility.
Then, the conversation turns to Mathangi’s childlessness, to which Vairavan’s wife returns and says, “get my husband married as many times as you want, but don’t you dare say a hurtful word about my sister-in-law.” Throughout this sequence, every time someone delivers their dialogues, others look at that person like they’ve seen god in front of their eyes. Wouldn’t they know this is exactly what they’d say, given they’re a close-knit joint family and all?
The setup of the first half is not just saccharine but feels forced. The writing is so focused on the ‘right thing to do’ that it doesn’t invest anything in the relationships at all. We don’t really see a connection between Vairavan and Mathangi, instead, we get endless talk about their love. They keep sacrificing their own needs/happiness for that of the other’s position in society. For instance, Mathangi and Vaathiyar decide not to have children until Vairavan has had his because the village is wagging its tongue, apparently!
It is also an absolute shame that none of the three leads has any on-screen connection with each other. There is no romance between Mathangi and Vaathiyaar. Are they even a happy couple? I couldn’t tell. There is no tangible bond between her and Vairavan either. Why does Mathangi trust her brother’s ways despite the obvious harm it can bring? Is it just because he’s her brother? Should we just take that for granted?
Sasikumar, Samuthirakani and Jyothika feel like people in imaginary relationships with characters that have nothing to do with those we’re seeing on screen. Sasikumar and Soori have more chemistry in the film than the leads. Udanpirappe expects the audience to fill in the gaps from personal experience, but these gaps are too big for us to do the writers’ job.
Without that, the second half feels unbearably long and heavily rushed at the same time. The Adhiban character is sketched and shot with so little care that it feels like a horrible caricature. Kalaiyarasan performs his heart out, but the role is ill-conceived. Therefore, the climax feels bizarre in the way it resolves itself. Is Vaathiyaar going to join Vairavan as his henchman next?
More surprisingly, Jyothika, the biggest star in the film, is a passive character who remains unusually silent until she’s briefly pushed to violence in the climax. She has enough screen time but really nothing much to do. For instance, there is a scene where she tries to warn Pakkadi (Soori) about her husband’s ploy to help the police catch him. She makes a cryptic warning, never really saying anything. Throughout the film, she gives an impassioned performance, but most of it goes into melancholic monologues about her lost child or her nephew bringing the family together. She isn’t the hero of this film by any standard.
In that sense, in Jyothika’s second innings, Udanpirappe is a misfire. It doesn’t give us the satisfaction of watching a full-on Jyothika film like Magalir Mattum or even Raatchasi, warts and all. Nor does it feel like your average Sasikumar flick, fights, mass and what have you. Udanpirappe walks an unsatisfying middle path.