I found it amusing that an associate of director Jeethu Joseph chose to make his directorial debut with a thriller in which, at one point, a character wonders out loud how another character discovered the actual location where he had buried the bodies.
Ini Utharam boasts a rather intriguing set-up, which we saw in the trailer: A woman walks into a police station to report a murder committed by her. She demands, constantly, to speak to a circle inspector. Very soon, her statement’s veracity and sanity are up for scrutiny. We get a moment where Aparna Balamurali goes ballistic when a cop labels her ‘insane’ after seeing her down some pills. In the same police station, another cop lets everyone know he won’t tolerate “violence against women.”
The first moment doesn’t appear forced; the second one does. It’s as though the latter’s inclusion serves the purpose of delivering a message.
The screenplay of Ini Utharam, too, behaves this way at times. The inclusion of a love song at an early point acts as a major speed-breaker—it isn’t very successful at convincing us of the chemistry of a couple presumably in love. When I want to see a thriller, I expect to be thrilled instead of seeing the tension diffused by something that I wish the makers handled in a more palatable—meaning less cringe-inducing—way.
Take this week’s other theatrical release, Rorschach, for example. It showed that sometimes not bowing to conventions can result in a great thriller. Why this urge to create something that “family” or “Malayali” audiences can connect to?
Fortunately, Ini Utharam picks up pace after that and doesn’t stop for unnecessary detours. Of course, it’s Aparna’s Dr Janaki who lights the fuse; after a point, though, someone else enters the picture —Harish Uthaman’s Tamil-Malayalam-speaking police superintendent Ilavarasan, on whom the spotlight remains for most of the runtime—so much so that he became, for me, the protagonist of the story.
Harish not only gets the film’s best lines but also gets photographed in a way that does justice to his character’s unpredictable quality. The makers make the best use of Harish’s hawk-like eyes and his tall and commanding frame, all of which lend much gravitas to his character.
At one point, Harish’s face is framed with one eye in shadows, which registers the portrait of a pirate sporting an eyepatch. That image, to me, represents Ilavarasan in a nutshell. He has a gift for disarming his opponent merely with his words.
An early agitation scene has Ilaravasan controlling the mob using methods his subordinates didn’t think of. He reveals himself as someone who hates herd mentality; he is all about thinking independently. You can’t predict what he will say or do next, a quality which offers a modicum of excitement in several places.
It becomes evident later on that the resolution of Ini Utharam will depend on Janaki’s interactions with Ilavarasan, the Circle inspector (Kalabhavan Shajohn), and the Home Minister (Siddique). Although Ini Utharam managed to hold my attention throughout its runtime—owing to the plot structure and presence of these few talented actors—I was also bothered by the unremarkable quality of the writing with regard to the past revelations and the actors’ lines.
With a unique set-up such as this, one expects a backstory that blows our mind, but what we get is a familiar chain of events. But irrespective of this, one keeps watching to see how these characters manipulate events in their favour or someone else’s.
While not a complete waste of time, Ini Utharam is not exactly an earth-shattering experience either. If anything, Harish Uthaman, whose imposing, screen-dominating presence closes the film, leaves a strong impression.
Film: Ini Utharam
Director: Sudheesh Ramachandran
Cast: Aparna Balamurali, Harish Uthaman, Kalabhavan Shajohn, Siddique