Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan (UGJ) makes the best use of a fart joke which is employed just once and repeated, just once, at a wedding, without grossing us out. The discovery of the person responsible for it is the final climactic twist. As I type this, I’m laughing inside while picturing the freeze-frame of the ‘culprit’ winking at us. I’m also chuckling at the visual of the embarrassed characters assumed to have done it.
One character’s ego gets hurt in the process, immediately triggering a fight involving the wedding guests. Now, this is the sort of situation that Saiju Kurup’s Jayan was trying to avoid. Making matters worse is the hindrances standing in the way of him taking a toilet break. This dilemma becomes part of a recurring bathroom joke, also not overdone. You could say that Jayan, a former thug, was once figuratively full of s***; now, he literally is.
Saiju Kurup delivers one of his sophisticated performances. Jayan is diametrically opposite of his Arakkal Abu in the Aadu films. A prologue establishes the ferocity of the character in the past. Now Jayan is leading an ordinary family life with a doting wife. He has a big day ahead of him. His niece is getting married, and he doesn’t want anything to go wrong. The film constantly toys with the idea of pushing his buttons, and Saiju effectively conveys the pressures of a man who is doing his best to ensure that his inner ‘gunda’ remains in retirement. Saiju also adds a few comical strokes to his sketch of Jayan, even in his most urgent moments. He is what Kottayam Kunjachan would’ve been if he were an introvert.
Notably, for a film titled after the character, UGJ gives a lot of space to its supporting characters too. Of course, if one were to pick out the main leads, they would be Saiju, Siju Wilson and Shabareesh Varma. The last two make significant contributions to the narrative in the film’s latter half. The charismatic Siju holds a ‘superstar’ presence amongst all the guests. And Shabareesh seems to be carrying something heavy under his coy facade.
But until we get to the surprising revelations, the film spends its pre-interval hour getting us acquainted with everyone else. One of them holds the key—literally and figuratively—to the events that happen in the post-interval segments. The film behaves like a relative who takes you to a wedding and, instead of plopping you in a chair and leaving you with no familiar faces for company, introduces you to every member present there. Some of them are amusing, others not so much. But one can’t imagine the film without the latter either. Perhaps taking out a couple of lines or a scene there would’ve improved the film.
These portions, where nothing eventful happens, could make one question their relevance. I wasn’t bored because, unlike the recent Archana 31 Not Out, things pick up later in UGJ. I get why the makers took their own time developing the characters because once the interval card appears, we have a clear picture of each guest. We get a woman-ogling NRI, a bread-and-chicken loving colonel, a cook who prefers to work undisturbed, photographers with two different schools of thought, and others.
The time consumption makes sense when you see these character traits returning to bite them later, in the behind. The film introduces a second layer of character development, to mislead this time, as part of an ‘undercover’ operation that leads to comical results, which involves the abovementioned fart and toilet jokes.
Jaffer Idukki makes a smashing—literally and figuratively— cameo.
UGJ is the third film in recent memory to have a wedding scenario at its centre after Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam and Archana 31 Not Out. The only common element in these films is a young woman with second thoughts about her impending wedding. But all three films differ with respect to their narrative scope, milieu, characters, subtextual and dramatic depth. The goal of all three films is not the same. But UGJ has more in common with TN in that they both focus on a single day’s event.
Cinematographer Eldho Isaac keeps things minimal and demonstrates that even an ordinary wedding can look good on screen without resorting to the usual cliches.
Director Arun Vaiga puts his wedding photography background to good use in UGJ. He mines some decent jokes out of the rivalry between ‘international’ and ‘local’ photographers. The film doesn’t aim very high, and it’s not classic material. It seems to be content with simple goals. However, I can’t complain because I had a good time.
Film: Upacharapoorvam Gunda Jayan
Director: Arun Vaiga
Cast: Saiju Kurup, Siju Wilson, Sabareesh Varma, Johny Antony