Watching Under World can lend itself to a nice little drinking game. Each time one of the film’s actors delivers a “punchline” before turning around and walking away in slow motion, participants should take a swig. Even celebrated boozards, I guarantee, will not make it past the first 40 minutes of playing this game. It’s like the writers don’t believe in conversations. Everything must sound like a statement. Give the makers another chance, and a line like “Amma, please pass the upma,” too would have ended with a closeup of the mother staring straight into our hero’s eyes, as she makes her way into the kitchen with a ladle. Replace this ladle with a knife or a gun, and that’s pretty much the rest of the film.
The rousing background score helps a little the first two or three times we see such scenes try their luck. The protagonist Stalin John (Asif Ali) says something, and you barely pay attention. But, it’s when the background score begins that we realise that what we just heard was supposed to be a punchline. Like this one roughly translated from Malayalam, where Stalin dares a police officer by saying, “I will keep my gambling den open from 10 pm to 2 am every night in the same place you arrested me. Don’t underestimate the confidence of a man who can say that to you.”
And later, when he’s picked a fight with a politician, he looks at him and says, “Sakhavinod pinne Stalin aarannu paranju tharandello? (Comrade, I needn’t tell you more about Stalin).” The moment this line is delivered, the camera zooms into a book written by THE Stalin himself. You can’t blame the makers for this, though. You need to make sure, lest the audience confuse the Russian revolutionary with MK Stalin, Karunanidhi’s son. It becomes obvious that the only intention of naming the lead character Stalin was to accommodate this punch scene. Which is how most of the film seems to have been designed. Individual scenes get far more importance than the screenplay, and this makes it extremely difficult to remain interested, when you’re already trying hard to keep up with a complicated plot.
Like in the director’s earlier film Ee Adutha Kalathu, Under World too operates with the idea of multiple characters getting their own individual introductions and conflict set-ups before their worlds collide. Here, we get three main characters Solomon (Lal Jr.), Majeed (Farhaan Faasil) and Stalin John. After a reasonably engaging first hour, we arrive at a midpoint where both Majeed and Stalin join hands to retrieve Rs. 500 crore from Solomon, an amount the latter has stolen from a corrupt politician. As we go along, things begin to get confusing and one never understands what this politician (played by Mukesh) stands to gain by employing two more criminals into this treasure hunt.
The film attempts a bromance between Majeed and Stalin, but even their chance meeting in jail happens far too conveniently. One of the reasons we feel this is because of the way Stalin’s character has been written. It’s like the character himself believes he’s the hero of a film. So, when revenge is in order, all he does is plant a few bombs in his enemy’s movie theatre and detonates it as he walks away from the blast in slow motion. The film thinks this is style; it looks more like stupidity.
Under World also has a particularly strong affection for the pretentious. Each time we’re shown the corrupt politician (Mukesh is supposed to look 75 in this film) in his cell, we get shots of the book he’s reading. At first, he’s reading Cooperation Without Compromise and later, he reads Gandhi’s My Experiments With Truth. “Irony”, you can almost hear the director shouting. When we get a shot of Solomon’s phone, the last dialled call reads “Harley Quinn”. Does this mean that Solomon is supposed to be some twisted version of Joker himself? Who really knows. And, what is it really with Malayalam gangster cinema and its obsession with Christian imagery?
The cat-and-mouse game the film transforms into feels like it will never end, and what’s worse is the ultraslow pacing the director has opted for. Fights scenes seem extremely generic and even the big reveal in the end is so poorly foreshadowed early on that it comes as no real shock or surprise. The visuals work well, and even the performances, especially that of Lal Jr., stand out in a film let down by its screenplay. In the film’s desperation to be cool, we’re left with a film with no real soul or substance.