Udanpirappe is Jyothika's 50th film. Her 'second innings,' as she calls it, has been dotted with stories that champion women. More specifically, her films speak of, and for the middle-aged woman, a demographic that is often left out on screen. Tamil cinema rarely engages with middle-aged women, beyond her identity as a wife or a mother. Jyotjika has spoken very candidly about the gender bias in the industry, and her films have been crucial in representing this space.'
However, Udanpirappe is not a female-centric narrative like her earlier films. The film revolves around the bond between Vairavan (Sasikumar) and his sister Mathangi (Jyotika). An ongoing feud between Mathangi's husband (Samuthirakani) and Vairavan has led to a falling out. While family feuds are no stranger to Tamil cinema, Udanpirappe has an interesting clash of ideologies at the centre. While Vairavan believes in quick justice, even if it means turning vigilante and resorting to violence, his brother-in-law is a stickler for rules. The latter argues that violence will only add fuel to the fire, and can never be the solution. However, Vairavan argues that our snail-paced systems rarely get around to delivering justice. However, Udanpirappe does not explore these contrasting perspectives in detail. It is content to stick to the surface " happy to make an Anniyan out of Vairavan and an Ambi out of his brother-in-law.
The lead trio of Udanpirappe is refreshingly progressive. Mathangi does not think twice before pawning her mangal sutra for a medical emergency. It does not hurt her husband's ego when Vairavan suggests living together, as the 'veetoda mappillai' (a husband who lives with his wife's family). Vairavan openly acknowledges his fertility issues, refusing to let his wife bear the brunt of social slander. There is also a lovely equation between Maathangi and her sister-in-law, which is another sidestep from the usual bickering we see onscreen between female members.
But none of these threads adds major value to the plot, which follows the usual tropes. Both Mathangi and her husband speak of honouring their daughter's wishes. Yet, when it comes to making a decision, she is hardly in the picture, called in only at the last moment during the function. Despite knowing that his influence inadvertently caused a major loss in Maathangi's family, he seems to bear no guilt regarding his choices or actions. Udanpirappe is also bogged down by a need to explain even the smallest of things. The emotional beats are inconsistent and overly melodramatic, bordering on preachy in a few instances.
Major decisions and revelations come out of nowhere. There is a major disconnect between what the characters say and do.
Nevertheless, Jyothika delivers a fine performance, which proves to be one of the major strengths of the film. In her pre-release interviews, Jyothika has said that Maathangi represents women who are home-bound. She calls them silent crusaders. For the most part, we only see Mathangi react to her surroundings " torn between her brother and husband, stoically bearing the pain of emotional distance from her family. We see Jyothika effectively communicate Maathangi's inner turmoil with silent glances and tear-rimmed eyes. Imman's emphatic score is another strength, even if it borders on melodrama at places.
Udanpirappe aspires to be an emotional family drama that speaks about the importance of family. And there is potential to be one too. But its emotional inconsistency and superficiality restrict it to be a rehash of an age old-narrative.
Udanpirappe is streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
Ashameera Aiyappan is a film journalist who writes about Indian cinema with a focus on South Indian films.