U-TURN

U-Turn starts with a disclaimer that it’s based on real events. What these real events mean, is revealed only during end-credits. One can consider it a deceit or a conceit by the helmer, depending on how one wishes to consume that information.

There are many scenes in this film that show something but convey something else; mostly hidden, few completely contrary. This is no Lucia, but writer-director Pawan Kumar’s U-Turn is surely an engrossing, above-average, song less thriller. The movie’s premise starts with a mysterious murder/death of a person having marital issues. The same person is shown to have made an illegal U-turn on the busy Double Road fly-over in Bangalore by shifting aside big blocks used as a make-shift median. An intern (a dusky and an extremely attractive Shraddha Srinath with a nose-ring in tow to make hearts go aflutter – at least mine did) at the Indian Express office (in Shivajinagar of course) is preparing a crime-story based on traffic violations/’un-civic’ sense of riders and drivers and has a home-less – well, he has a make-shift tent if you want to call it a home—guy give her the registration numbers of those vehicles for 100 rupees. It’s discovered that the guy who made the illegal U-turn that day dies the same night. It’s also discovered later, that so have many others who have made that U-turn on the fly-over. What’s going on here? What does someone taking a U-turn on some busy fly-over have to do with his or her death? Everyone is looking for answers, including a more-than-helpful and enthusiastic cop, a bereaved husband and a prospective boy-friend.

As mentioned earlier, by Pawan Kumar’s Lucia standards, this might appear, ironically, a ‘conventional’ movie! And the fact that it might hark back referentially to a Hindi movie not more than 4 years old which also dealt with death and its myriad consequences is quite unmissable: Thematically, yes, the two films are threaded but cinematically, Pawan Kumar’s treatment is quite divorced from the Hindi one and seeps with a local, linguistic authenticity. (There is a hilarious scene where a couple of ‘youths’ ask the intern what rights she has to question their ‘right’ to indulge in traffic violations; is she a ‘Kannadiga’? In the next scene, this patriot who considered himself the judge, jury, and executioner of state-citizenry and rights based on ethnicity is busy snorting coke listening to hard-rock with posters of bands from you-know-where! There’s not a single image or poster of even a Hindi album or a movie – let-alone Kannada music. Well, so much for hyper-statehood tongue-lashing.)

The film plays out on two levels but still manages to hold the interest on both the levels – the thriller and the meta-physical. Kumar explores ‘karma’ and its many manifestations through and within the Hindu philosophy. A U-turn, or its diagrammatic representation, in a sense, is symbolically filtered through thriller elements in the movie. The theory that there is a pay-back waiting for you for your deeds is given practice through the eventful life of some and mainly the death of many. [In one of the most cinematically/technically tacky but metaphorically rich scenes, a person dying is stopped and is, in a way, cursed to live and complete the life-time ‘assigned’ to him by the higher power. Now this is ‘karma’ and an understanding of PRABHDAM and AkAmiyam would help one in enriching the scene’s consumption as a viewer. Basically, the fact that you have to settle all the balances on all the deeds and mis-deeds your soul was a part of before achieving salvation; whether it be in this birth or multiple-births, is cemented on celluloid through a U-turn.)

Pawan Kumar, the writer-director gives subtle hints towards classism, regionalism (as I mentioned in the coke-addicted guy’s behavior) and just leaves them at that. (The old man picked up from the bridge is really given no choice; it is, as they say, the norm in India, ‘पहेले लात, फिर बात’ for the poor, while upper middle-class and the ‘educated’ get the boot only on 2nd or 3rd round of questioning – if they are luckier, they get a cutting chai first and then the boot.] Again, in the opening scene, he depicts a fine camaraderie and mother-daughter tidbits’ exchange; but throws in many societal observations, namely (i) Indian parents’ obsession with marriage and kids and age (ii) having a ‘safe’ job (in Bangalore parlance, read/write BOTH as software). And boy oh boy, if you are using an auto-rickshaw ‘service’ in Bangalore, make sure you have somebody with you who can go back or make a return-trip with and mainly, for the driver, from where you boarded, otherwise the poor driver has ABSOLUTELY no other choice but to extort you to pay at least half the ‘return-trip’ fare. There is another scene where the intern is accosted by the cops late in the night right in her apartment parking-basement/entrance and the ‘watch-man’ is sleeping. Well, he’s sleeping right through the entire noisy episode and even after the sirens have stopped blaring. The man believes in status-quo, and how!

Technically, the film does go through schizophrenic quality of savviness throughout. The technology employed in the climax is tacky. The cops trying to desperately break through a jail-cell where two guys are beating the hell out of each other is badly handled. The cops’ ineptitude at trying to break-open a jail-cell lock starts earnestly but borders and proceeds to hilarity. The ‘time-gap’ appears forcefully induced and the audience can easily sense it to the extent that they start thinking maybe they would have done a better job at smashing the lock than any cop! The good things: A fine background score by Poornachandra Tejaswi and fine lighting by the DOP especially in the chamber scenes. (The pre-death cinematographic treatment, however, is really old-school and tacky – the kind that you might have seen and forgotten in Ramsey Bros’ movies.) But for all this tackiness, there is one absolutely fantastic shot of the cop {Roger Narayanan’s G.K. Nayak} standing atop the fly-over trying to figure out the topography. The camera zooms out step-wise in such a spectacular fashion to capture a hawk-eye’s view of Bangalore that it might attract or force the Google behemoths to re-configure their street-view: Marvelous and absolutely superlative. All the action-scenes in Mad-Max to me are the cinematographic scenes par-excellence of this entire decade and a close, a very close-second is this shot from U-Turn.

Performance-wise, Shraddha Srinath does a good job of playing a novice but still needs to notch up in the acting department in terms of dialogue-delivery. (Do please keep the nose-ring on in your next movies). Roger Narayan as the cop has a fine screen-presence but comes across as too earnest. Hebbale Krishna is superb as the superior who wants to dismiss off the cases as suicide and not unnecessarily ‘complicate’ cases as well as one’s life.

In all, this is, a ‘safe’ film by Pawan Kumar’s standards but a ‘radical’ one by the Kannada film industry’s standards that for the past decade or so is quite happy ripping off legally or illegally Tamil and Telugu masala films. This is a surely recommended film but if one’s expecting something on par with Lucia, well, one’s not going to get it.

 

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