Unda (2019) Malayalam Movie Review – Veeyen


Khalid Rahman’s ‘Unda’ is intelligent film making, and the ideological vantage point that it roots for, is one that has its fingers directed at the political scenario of one of the biggest democracies in the world. Never for a moment pretending to be erudite, ‘Unda’ is loaded with terrific insights that are fired away in quick succession, rendering it one of the most thought provoking Malayalam films in recent times.


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In what seems like a brief interlude of aberrant silence amidst extended sessions of chitchat, Noushad  (Noushad Ali) a civil police officer from Kerala, quippingly asks as to who  a Maoist truly is, and what their needs and demands are. It is evident that he is one among the hundreds of thousands of people in this country to whom a Maoist is little more than a word that makes it to the news headlines once in a while, that is as hastily forgotten as it is imbibed.

Noushad is one among the police team, sent on ‘other state duty’ during the elections, and as the jolly lot of youngsters set out on their journey to Chattisgarh, little do they anticipate what lies in store. Noushad’s query meets with an evasive answer from their officer in charge – Sub Inspector Manikandan (Mammootty) – who admits in jest that the Maoists themselves would have the answers to his questions.

unda-malayalam-movie-review-veeyen

Khalid Rahman’s ‘Unda’ is intelligent film making, and the ideological vantage point that it roots for, is one that has its fingers directed at the political scenario of one of the biggest democracies in the world. Never for a moment pretending to be erudite, ‘Unda’ is loaded with terrific insights that are fired away in quick succession, rendering it one of the most thought provoking Malayalam films in recent times.

The plot mechanics of ‘Unda’ are laudable, in that it appears a bit too concerned about individual lives, and yet resourcefully links them all to the political principle that lies deep beneath. In exploring personal stories, it has a much more reflective intent in mind, wherein it slices into the subtexts with a finesse that is admirable, laying bare the nuts and bolts of a colossal political system in the process.

There is PC Biju Kumar (Lukman) for instance, who bears the brunt of many a joke from his colleagues at the force, especially from PC Unnikrishnan (Abhiram Poduval) despite having made his way into the police uniform, from very modest beginnings. Rebuked and ridiculed on account of his ancestry, Biju takes it all lying down, until he decides that he cannot, simply go on any further.

There is also HDR Jojo Samson (Shine Tom Chacko) who finds himself at the brink of a divorce, and PC Gireesh (Arjun Ashokan), who despite all of Jojo’s cynicism regarding matrimony, eagerly looks forward to tying the knot. PC Aji Peter (Rony David) is disgruntled that neither his sister nor Gireesh to whom she’s getting married to, had broken the news to him earlier, and PC Gokulan Balachandran (Gokulan) has his thoughts back at home with his wife, who is expecting a baby any moment. There is also Noushad, who is aghast at the prospect of the terrible Chattisgarh heat marring his complexion, thereby ruining his chances of turning an actor someday, and PC Varghese Kuruvila (Jacob Gregory) who lives in a self-absorbed corner of the world.

And of course, there is the leader of the pack, Manikandan, who feverishly drops to the floor, when the first shot is fired, ripples of alarm and fright overpowering him, turning him absolutely immobile and defenceless. He staggers up after the incident, and realizes that his stature has dropped exceptionally down in the dismayed eyes of his troops, from where a resurgence seems near to impossible.

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There is an inherent humour in the film that does not let your attention flit away for a second, and it is often so bitterly brilliant that it makes you think over it, time and again. Bereft of bullets and the requisite training, the police team that is fast becoming suspicious of its chances of survival in a Maoist ridden polling booth at Chattisgarh, sends an SOS back home. The police chief Sam J Mathan (Kalabhavan Shajon) attends the call, and we get to see his troops waiting for his command to charge on a group of student protesters who have taken to the streets on Kerala. The irony of it is apparent, and it is one of the many occasions where the observations are sharp and the demands for contemplation, obvious.

The satire in the film is of the non-interventional kind, where it is seamlessly woven into the narrative. The haplessness that permeates the words of Kunal Chand (Omkar Das Manipuri) is a mere indication of the misery and misfortune that a population is compelled to deal with, and the despair is writ large in his young boy’s eyes that have been witness to many an adversity already.  This is why. when Manikandan urges him in the climax, to put on a fight and not to flee from where he truly belongs,  ‘Unda’ lays out a significant political statement and wonders aloud as to how accurately targeted some of our battles actually are.

Khalid Rahiman’s film would have been blemish free, had it not been for the fight sequence that entails at the climax. It’s only with a disappointing astonishment that one can watch the film shed its much appealing realistic ambience all on a sudden albeit for a few minutes, and opt for the dramatic, making you wonder what on earth happened. Armed with lathis and cane shields, the boys send a group of dangerously armed hooligans scampering away, and as much as you relish their victory, you end up whispering to yourself that this certainly isn’t what the rest of the film deserved. There is also a short track that involves two policemen on duty who mess it all up (Asif Ali and Vinay Fort in cameos), where the writing gets atypically disoriented, in sharp contrast with what precedes and follows it.

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In a scene where Manikandan drops his head and admits with a sigh that in his long winding career that is about to draw to a close he has never even chased a thief, we get to see the Mammootty whom we adore; facets of an accomplished actor who grabs a role as this with a resolve and easily pushes the rest of the actors around him onto the shade. There is another instance when he recollects an incident from the past, that had led him to being arrested by the police, and yet another one where he offers Biju a chance to explain to the group as to how broken he really feels from inside, where Mammootty asserts that men may come and go, but actors like him will royally remain.

But this isn’t a film that is oriented in any manner towards Manikandan, and hence we have an array of actors who contribute to it with all their might; my personal favourite being Noushad who plays the naive young police officer with aplomb. This seems to be yet another winner for Shine this year, and Lukman wows in a role that he perfectly essays. Equally impressive are the performances from Arjun Ashokan, Rony David, Abhiram Poduval, Gokulan, Ranjith and Jacob Gregory, as well as exemplary feats from Bhagwan Tiwari who plays Kapil Dev and Chien Ho Liao who plays Dakota Akanito lie in store. There are actors who leave a mark with just a scene or two, and Shaheen who plays Vincent James is one such, whom we should hopefully get to see in many more films to come.

There is a challenging ambiguity that is visually retained throughout in ‘Unda’ and it has Sajith Purushan’s outstanding cinematography to thank for it. Prashant Pillai scores a whopper with his eerie musical score that blends in streaks of a rustic tune with cautionary tones that generates and maintains a creepy air.

With ‘Unda’ Khalid Rahman pulls off a seemingly impossible accomplishment, with a film that is exceptionally bright and entertaining for the kind of theme that it adopts. It’s a timely reminder without doubt, as to how our judgments rule us on individual and societal levels, and bluntly puts across a political debate that will be much discussed in the days to come.


Verdict: Good


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4 Replies to “Unda (2019) Malayalam Movie Review – Veeyen”

  1. Hello Sir, Am quite new to your site and really like your reviews.
    This one is spot on too. Bravo.

    If it was upto me, may be I would have added one or two more scenes for the local and also the Lukman’s character. Especially the latter, because our general upper-class population always kind of take it for granted, these kind of insults of the sc/st population.

    I terribly wished that climax fight was less cinematic. It stays like a soar note in an otherwise beautiful piece of art. The same also with the bullet carrier’s in train, unnecessary by all means. Such a pity. It was like a champion football team comfortbly leading a final game 2-0 and then let in a stupid penalty and an own goal in 93rd and 94th minutes of added time!

  2. സാറെ , ആരാണ് മാവോയിസ്റ് എന്നുള്ളതിന് ലുക്മാനിലൂടെ മറുപടി പറയുന്ന സംവിധായകനെയല്ലേ നമ്മൾ കാണുന്നത് . നമ്മൾ എങ്ങനെ ജീവിക്കണമെന്ന് മറ്റുള്ളവർ തീരുമാനിക്കുന്നത് അസഹനീയമെന്നു ലുക്മാൻ പറയുന്നതും മനുഷ്യസ്നേഹിയായ ലുക്മാനെ കാണിക്കുന്നതും ചില ബിംബങ്ങളല്ലേ ?

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