Director: Vijay Kumar
Cast: Vijay Kumar, Abbas, Sudhakar
Despite the number in the title, Uriyadi 2 is not exactly a sequel to the gritty, sensationally effective earlier film, which was also written and directed by Vijay Kumar. Yes, there are similarities — for instance, the seething social anger, reflected in the well-timed use of Bharathiyar verses. (If Part 1 ended with Agni kunjondru kanden, this one comes to a close with Naan veezhven endru ninaithaayo…) Here, too, we get flash-forwards (though, unlike in the earlier film, they come across more as a stylistic choice than something crucial to the narrative) Once again, unscrupulous small-time politicians form parties based on caste and lust after more power. And there's the occasional reminder of why the earlier film was so impressive. I especially liked the unfussy "introduction" of the heroine (Vismaya) in a scene where an astrologer predicts she will have a love marriage. The staging relegates the heroine to the background. The emphasis is on her father, who is not happy with this news.
The difference is that this time around, the protagonist, Lenin Vijay (again played by the director himself), is glamourised. The last time we saw him, he was a college student in the 1990s, and part of a group of friends. Now, he's graduated — not just in terms of getting a job but also getting rid of his entourage. He still has friends, but the conflict eventually turns out to be his alone. From a boy who was sucked into violence only because he and his friends were constantly tormented by the local politician's henchmen, he's now a crusader. From team member, he's grown into a leader. Some might even call him a vigilante. I missed the smallness, the tightness of Uriyadi — but I suppose the inflation is inevitable. A sequel — even one that is not exactly a sequel — has to keep upping the stakes.
But here's the thing. Despite this "heroism", Uriyadi 2 isn't quite a "hero movie". Vijay Kumar comes across as an angry filmmaker, and also a political one. We see the protagonist framed beside images of Lenin and Che Guevara. A song is an ode to the "thozha", and when Lenin Vijay runs his hands over a bloodstain, it spreads like sweat across his face. The screen takes its cue from this colour, and instead of a fade to black, it's a fade to a blazing red. Which makes me think that the character's name (combining a Communist leader's name with the director's own name) is no accident. It may be too early to tell, but like the blue of Pa Ranjith, we may be seeing, with this filmmaker, an interest in red and black — the latter is seen in the flags of dissent being waved in a protest against a gas-leaking factory.
The crux, here, is a combination of the Sterlite and Bhopal tragedies. The factory's owner wants to branch out into copper, and, meanwhile, the air ends up being polluted with Methyl Isocyanate. This is a BIG issue, and the gallery-playing is bigger, too. Uriyadi 2 is far more melodramatic. The romance angle (set to a beautiful Govind Vasantha waltz) is longer than needed. And the tragedies — the death of a friend, the effects of the gas leak on the local populace — are milked to the maximum. Even the lines are bigger, with more "mass" appeal. Sample this one: "We have apps that constantly update us on cricket scores. How about one that tells us about the quality of air we breathe?" A valid point. But as delivered, it comes across less like a plea, more like a message.
How much you enjoy Uriyadi 2 will depend on how much weight you give to ideology as opposed to the filmmaking. Uriyadi was subtle. Here, the director makes his points with a sledgehammer. The more emphatic the message, the more I tend to resist the manipulation. But I'm relieved to report that Vijay Kumar is still a solid filmmaker. Forget the overly flashy bits, like the camera (Praveen Kumar N) mimicking the POV of a man writhing on a factory floor in agony. The pre-interval stretch is the real deal. It starts small. It's about an attack on the hero and his friend, and the set-up is superb, almost like dance choreography. This, then, segues to a chase, and just when we think we are going to get a hero-strikes-back moment, the scale changes. It becomes… bigger. The scene builds and builds, but it's no longer about two men. It's about a village. What began with the hero has spilled over to everyone — we sense the egalitarian spirit of Communism. Uriyadi 2 isn't half the film its predecessor was, but it isn't a sell-out, either.