'Uttharam' was a movie that I had seen when I was in school, and yet I remember that the movie fascinated me. I'd been waiting for a chance to re-visit it, and when the opportunity occurred, I grabbed it with both hands.
On the face of it, 'Uttharam' is much like the very, many investigative-series movies that adorn (and litter, in many cases) Mammootty's career. The wife of a close friend Matthew (Sukumaran) takes her own life, and upon his entreaties, Balu (Mammootty) takes it upon himself to dig deeper into the reasons for her sudden decision. And sudden it did seem, for by all accounts Selena (Suparna) lead a comfortable life, had a husband who doted on her. and was a noted poet highly regarded in all literary circles. The camera faithfully follows Balu as he goes about unraveling the mystery behind the untimely death of Selena.
The adapted screenplay by the renowned M.T.Vasudevan Nair elevates the movie to another realm altogether. 'Uttharam' does feature many of his pet muses, like the throwaway references to the displaced feudal patriarch (Sukumaran, in this instance), and the well-read, modern but nostalgic Mallu male (Mammootty). However, unlike some other movies scripted by MT (Midhya for instance), this does not form the central premise of the movie. Purportedly inspired by a Daphne Du Maurier short story (I haven't been able to find out which one, but its fairly obvious if you know what you are looking for). 'Uttharam' has a very carefully crafted screenplay, and it does the reputation of the great writer no injustice.
**** Spoilers Ahead *****
Mammootty plays Balu straight, as a man with no roots anywhere. There are several hints as to this aspect of his personality - conversations about the frequent switching of jobs and cities, his wandering nature etc. All he really cares about is this family, really. Balu's initial hesitancy to accept the task of prodding into Selena's untimely demise, and his later sagaciousness in not giving up are subtly brought out by the actor. The only odd note in this performance is the scene he creates at the orphanage. Mammootty reverts to type there, and the scene sticks out like a sore thumb.
Parvathy plays the disturbed friend of Selena. Although she is introduced as a normal character, it soon becomes clear that she is a bit strange, and very much a loner. However, the reasons for this demeanor come out much later in the movie (though not as much of a surprise). The actress is strictly ok here; I felt that Parvathy could have played her character in a much more enigmatic fashion.
Suparna is hopelessly miscast as Selena. For one, her escapades in 'Vaishali' are much too familiar to accept her as an intellectual of any kind. Moreover, she doesn't look the part either. However, the screenplay wisely decides to just speak about her, rather than show a direct flashback. This is much like the technique adapted in Nelson Demille's 'The General's Daughter', and is surprisingly effective. Despite the actress, you do empathize with the character, which is a phenomenal achievement of sorts.
The biblical allusions in the movie really work, and there are quite a few in the movie. The reason for the suicide hardly strikes one as superficial, despite the central premise being flimsy - full credit to the screenplay-writer, and the director. There are a few loopholes (where would you find a schoolgirl who believes in immaculate conception in this time and age, even if she is the overtly religious daughter of a priest?), but they really are largely ignorable by the time you reach the finale of the movie. A must-watch for lovers of good cinema.