In Udanpirappe, Maathangi (Jyotika) and Vairavan (Sasikumar) are siblings who are estranged because of Maathangi’s husband Sargunam Vaathiyar (Samuthirakani). Vairavan believes in violence while Vaathiyar is a teacher and a pacifist. And because the two couldn’t get along after a point, the families separated. Here’s an early scene to give you an idea of the kind of film this is: Vaathiyar’s colleagues suggest that a certain candidate be chosen to teach at their school but he argues against it by asking how she can teach others if she couldn’t teach her own father to read and write: maark-ah mattum paakkaadhenga, manasayum paarunga.
Had he taken his own advice in his attitude to Vairavan, the movie would have ended in five minutes. All he had to do was to not focus on his violence but on his heart. But of course, the film has to drag on and we get a random villain – and a very random screenplay. But Vairavan is violent only when he fights for good things like hurt animals, for people who talk about caste discrimination.
Consider Jyotika’s introduction scene – a heroine introduction scene in her big film: A priest suddenly appears out of nowhere and says that the statue of a goddess is missing. The next moment, Jyotika is introduced and she finds the statue – that’s just it. The earlier scene existed just so she could emerge with the goddess. It adds nothing to the story, and that goddess never appears again.
It’s perfectly okay to make an old-fashioned family movie. Sasikumar himself has acted in Vetrivel which is a damn good example of an old-fashioned film that works really well. Udanpirappe, though, is old-fashioned in a really bad way.
The emotions exist only at the surface level. The actors are given very generic emotions to play, and you don’t feel anything because nothing has any depth at all. You don’t feel the suffering or separation of Maathangi and Vairavan. Even a major event like a boy’s death causes no reaction in the viewer at all. The biggest problem with the film is the overall blandness.
There’s a random villain in the film but apart from him everybody is a good person. Vairavan fights only for good causes. Similarly, all other characters are one-dimensional. Why not give Jyotika one scene where Maathangi confronts Vaathiyar about how unhappy she is being separated from her brother? That would have given her more than one dimension but this is the kind of film that’s content to show Jyotika standing in front of an image of Mother Teresa.
I kept thinking about Tamil cinema’s greatest brother-sister story, Mullum Malarum. Just see how much tension there is at the end when Shoba has to decide between her brother and her lover. The early scenes of the film establish the closeness between brother and sister but you have to take that for granted in Udanpirappe because there’s no character arc. How odd that Mullum Malarum remains vital today and would, for the most part, work even today. But Udanpirappe feels like something made in the 1970s.