Ugram Movie Review: Naresh Uncages His Fiery Side In This Imperfect Yet Unrestrained Thriller

Vijay Kanakamedala’s film might be uneven, insensitive and loud in places but there are some genuinely rousing moments in this massy spin on investigative thrillers

Director: Vijay Kanakamedala

Writers: Vijay Kanakamedala, Abburi Ravi, Toom Venkat

Cast: Allari Naresh, Mirnaa, Manikanta Varanasi

Vijay Kanakamedala is a loud, angry filmmaker. Even the title card of his sophomore film, Ugram, emblazons these two traits. The title font is formed by blood while the background score is that of a man screaming, either in anger or agony. There’s no room for subtlety here. When a bunch of hooligans smoke marijuana and physically abuse underage girls, the camera captures these crude acts with such discomforting detail that it feels borderline exploitative and insensitive. You see, Vijay intends to unsettle us and invoke sympathy for the victims by making us feel the affliction. His presentation lacks the sensitivity that might be present in his intentions. There’s no subtlety when the wrongdoers are punished either. Our protagonist, a cop, beats them to a pulp and tortures them by shoving leaves that cause a burning sensation into their private parts; yes, read the first line again. Even their suffering is sensationalised. 

The film’s penchant for loudness persists throughout and this trait helps Vijay pronounce the severity of some situations effortlessly. Let’s take the cold open, for instance, in which protagonist Shiva Kumar (Naresh), with fresh bruises on his face, is driving a car. Seated in the car along with him are his wife, Aparna (Mirnaa), and daughter. When a drop of blood from the injury on his eyebrow dribbles down and falls into his eyeball, it results in a freak accident. While the accident could have been staged better instead of giving it the appearance of a neatly simulated crash, it still manages to convey the ‘impact’ thanks to a close-up of Shiva’s eye filled with blood.

Ugram is a simple mystery, although it tries to complicate things by introducing different characters (read: red-herrings) and interspersing multiple points, from a medical condition to an act of revenge. Shiva’s wife and daughter go missing after the aforementioned accident and the distressed cop and husband has to now rescue his family while also battling a condition related to his brain. The medical angle and its grievous effects on the character aren’t registered fully in this otherwise serious film. I understand that it exists to raise stakes and serve as a ticking time bomb but the overall plot remains unaffected sans this arc too; so does Shiva’s beef with his father-in-law, played by Sharath Lohithaswa, in the overall scheme of things.

That brings me to the film’s non-linear structure, which, at times, tends to dilute the tension the writing managed to build until then. The most jarring instances have to be the cutaways from the serious mood to light and cheerful songs. While they are intended to let the audience breathe for a while, they come across as speed breaks in an otherwise taut narrative. It’s high time filmmakers contemplate writing better romantic threads and extracting better performances to establish relationships between the lead characters. AgentRamabanamand now Ugram, these recent films shoehorned love stories (in Ugram, the relationship, at least, holds some significance) and the resultant is tasteless and temper-testing. It’s ironic that the most ‘ugram’ we, as the audience, experience while watching the film is during the upbeat sequences. 

Naresh is the strongest link in Ugram. Despite some teething troubles, he is wonderful as an angry, grieving, helpless cop. His biggest success comes through the fact that 30 minutes into the film, I forgot about his indestructible foundation in comedy that he has spent close to two decades building. Halfway through the film, I was convinced that Naresh could effortlessly play an action hero, and by the end, I was cheering for him as he slayed the bad guys in slow-mo, covered in blood, while musician Sricharan Pakala channeled all his energy to render a rousing background score. And the action scenes have a force that’s not found in most big-budget films too. A reinvented Naresh, who gets one of the coolest intro scenes we have seen in recent times, holds Ugram together during its weaker parts too. He never lets his comic image overshadow him here. 

Ugram thrives when it’s focusing on the investigation. Vijay manages to establish a grievous threat in the first half and it sets the tone and tension just right. While Naresh played a victim of police brutality and systemic injustice in Naandhi (2021), also directed by Vijay, he is part of the system here and launches offense on the wrong-doers. While one might complain that the film glorifies police brutality and gratuitous violence, the emphasis here is on the emotion that drives Shiva, and the film goes to town in selling the protagonist’s rage. I, for one, bought this emotion. Likewise, the second half Introduces a thread featuring transgender people, spinning an elaborate chase and action sequence featuring criminals using transgender identity as a mask. This thread, once again, feels like it’s precariously placed on the verge of dehumanising mockery of the community, but what Ugram does later with this facet is surprising. 

Everything is about rage and emotion in this fittingly titled film. This emotion lends a ‘massy’ quality that’s rarely seen in investigative thrillers. In a way, Ugram is a mass action film masquerading as a mystery. I have no complaints on this front though. It might not be perfect but the most admirable quality about the film is that it never stops trying.

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