Ullozhukku (Sajin's Review) Movie Review: Fittingly tense and suffocating, and eventually liberating, dysfunctional family drama film

Christo Tomy
Writer-director Christo Tomy makes an assured feature directorial debut that's powered by two heavyweight performances from Urvashi and Parvathy
Ullozhukku (Sajin's Review) Movie Review

Ullozhukku (Sajin's Review) Movie Cast & Crew

Production : MacGuffin Pictures
Director : Christo Tomy
Music Director : Sushin Shyam

Ullozhukku reminded me of that saying -- and I'm paraphrasing this -- "Being alone is better than being lonely in the presence of the wrong people." In one scene, Leelamma (Urvashi) tells her sibling, a nun, that the latter not having any family is the same as the former having one. But this conversation occurs at a point in the film when Leelamma has had a realisation, and has become more empathetic to the plight of Anju (Parvathy). But a while back, she had told the nun that she was jealous of Leelamma having a family.

The film circles the follies brought on by pride and the fear of jealousy, which drove some of the film's characters to make some of the most terrible choices. Now they're regretting them. It takes a funeral to wake them up to the fact they've been sleeping on a delusional bed of half-truths all this while. The paranoia brought on by the nagging thought of jealous relatives wishing her family harm has led Leelamma to staunchly safeguard the illusion that her family is "happy". It takes Anju, the widow of the deceased man, to muster up enough courage to tell Leelamma, her mother-in-law, that the latter doesn't really have a life that would make God envious. When all the layers are eventually peeled and revealed, we realise there is nothing here to make God envious because he doesn't exist, at least in this family's world.

Debutant Christo Tomy, who also penned this prize-winning script, packs enough tension in the film's opening moments that you think twice about whether you are in for a suspense thriller or a dysfunctional family drama. Let's just say Ullozhukku is a dysfunctional family drama structured like a suspense thriller. It's an example of exceptional filmmaking craft that says, "See, we can make it this way, too!" Take the scene where Anju learns of an unexpected development and dreads the thought of this getting to her dying husband's ears. It's the film's most anxiety-inducing moment.

The idea of setting the family's home in flood-stricken land is anxiety-inducing enough. And when you get inside this home -- so lived in, so real, so oppressive -- you begin to slowly get a sense of the claustrophobic situations these characters have been thrust into. Cinematographer Shehnand Jalal, who expertly made his characters -- and us -- suffocate in the closed settings of films such as Bhoothakalam and Bramayugam, showcases his mastery once again in Ullozhukku, which too, predominantly revolves around two principal characters. Urvashi is the mother-in-law who doesn't play the typical, one-dimensional mother-in-law we have seen too often of late. Every mannerism and gesture either tells you what she thinks or doesn't. Urvashi, the consummate actress, knows when to apply which. Now, that's what you get when you give an incredibly complex, well-layered script to an acting heavyweight.

And there's Parvathy, who makes us feel the angst of someone juggling multiple conflicts simultaneously. The dying husband, the discreet lover, the urge to escape her in-laws... It's easily her finest performance since Uyare. I love it when a film makes us form a particular judgement of its characters at an initial glance and then slowly, plot development by plot development, tells you how wrong you are. In the process, you start analysing yourself. You ask yourself how you can judge these characters when you made regrettable choices in the past, too. After all, you were too weak to choose an option because you were so conditioned to think a certain way by those around you that you worry about straying from a preset course lest you disappoint or upset those close to you. Do you, too, have to be judged for it?

When Ullozhukku gets to the point where it breaks all assumptions you have of some of its characters, enough damage has been done already, but for the better. All this could've been avoided if someone had let someone else do what they really wanted to do in the first place. But just when you think that would've been the most ideal option, it shatters the illusion of that possibility also. The world of this film may be too cynical for some; however, like The Great Indian Kitchen or Kaathal: The CoreUllozhukku finally puts its characters through a purging process where they endure a few painful scratches to unburden themselves from the heaviness of all the lies they've conveniently chosen to bury in their closets, like that medical file Anju unearths during one of the film's most pivotal moments.

Urvashi and Parvathi deliver their best performances in a long time in this tightly plotted (edited by Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum-fame Kiran Das) and immaculately staged film that also sees competent turns from some of its supporting cast members such as Arjun Radhakrishnan (Kannur Squad, Dear Friend), Prasanth Murali (as Anju's doomed spouse), and Jaya Kurup, among others. This is a film where every character conceals a secret and, in the process, implores you not to ruin another person's life by keeping anything from them. 

Ullozhukku can get considerably depressing, like any film whose events are dictated by someone's demise; this is the best one since Lijo Jose Pellissery's Ee. Ma. Yau. to venture into that gloomy territory. Sushin Syam's score is refreshingly, aptly sombre with its soothing chords that recall his work in Kumbalangi Nights. It works wonderfully in a film overwhelmed by many painful events. By the time the film ends, you and your fellow movie lovers have shed a few tears, but you also feel a sense of relief at the liberating decisions that Anju and Leelamma make before it gets too late. As they say, better late than never, eh?

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