Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya (UMUR) is a film I’ve been eagerly looking forward to catching on the big screen post-pandemic. The pandemic’s far from over but UMUR is here, making our lives less suffocating for a while, and it is everything I expected it to be and even more. There are multiple facets I adored about the film. First, there’s a Srikakulam dialect and there is a Srikakulam dialect according to Telugu films, just like the stereotypical Telangana dialect we were accustomed to before Fida and Pelli Choopulu normalized the actual one. Usually, characters that have strong dialects seamlessly let go of it during certain scenes to avoid the risk of sounding odd. It’s only in Mallesham, in recent times, that we heard the perfect Telangana.
Likewise, UMUR perfects the Vizag-Srikakulam dialect, furthering Palasa 1978 early this year, because none of them sound like ‘dialects’. For instance, a thriller like Dhrusyam, also set in the surroundings of Araku, steers clear of the dialect game, and it doesn’t work against the film. However, for a film like UMUR, the dialect invigorates the film’s universe. While masala films build a universe with their own rules, pertaining to both physics and emotions, slice-of-life films like UMUR strive to metamorphose realism onto the screen. The dialect of the film is a clear indication of it’s treatment, which is somewhere between a lifestyle documentary and a light-weight masala film, shaped like a coming-of-age story. On all fronts, the film works supremely well.
The film sucked me into the laid-back world for the time being. Probably the prevailing self-isolation worked very much in favor of the film. Mahesh takes bath on the riverside, spends time in the open nature surrounding him, enjoys the rain alongside his father with a cup of tea, goes on clambakes with his family-friends, is friends with almost everyone in the village, and surprisingly almost every one of them is kind. Even his girlfriend’s father is polite while asking Mahesh to let go of his daughter. Nobody’s in a rush. Everyone’s content. These are things which we can only dream of. Of late, normality has become dream-like. In a way, the laid-backness of Araku and its people reminded me of the fictional-town Tambury from After Life. Back to people, Jognath, the antagonist of sorts, is not a bad guy either. Besides, Jognath’s sister, Jyothi is the other propeller of this coming-of-age story, asserting Mahesh to reanalyze his craft that he is habituated to. For instance, at a point, Mahesh almost gives up his pact of not wearing footwear until he gets his revenge, and proceeds to buy footwear. As he begins to take stairs down, Jyoti, who is there to get her photo clicked, interrupts him. Then, he climbs up the stairs and goes back to his studio, and there is no turning back since. Mahesh walking down the stairs can be perceived as him gradually leaving his self-respect behind and Jyoti refrains him from doing that, both literally and figuratively, acting as a catalyst for his change.
I wonder how the character dynamics would have played out had the story been set in a city like Hyderabad. Deviating from the original’s physical setting (also a peaceful town surrounded by greenery), would have made it a completely different film. The locale is the soul of the story. These characters draw their nonchalance from the place they live in. A concrete city would have compressed the story, squashing these characters in congested and polluted streets. Had it not been Araku, not for the hills, greenery, and open space, UMUR wouldn’t remain the same.
On the other hand, ethnicity is seamlessly infused into the narrative and the film thrives on the normality of life. There’s a joke about bamboo chicken, a traditional cuisine synonymous with Araku Valley. Fruits from panasa pandu (jack fruit) to arati pandu (banana) set things in motion for bigger consequences. A Telugu weekly magazine plays a crucial role in bringing together Mahesh and Jyothi for the first time, and both the ladies are named after Telugu magazines. None of them are stressed. They just flow. Even Twitter trolls – who fuel the celebrity culture – are acknowledged. What is Telugu celebrity culture without the real people behind those hashtags?
Sathya Dev, unlike Fahad Faasil who essayed the role in the original, has the build of a mass-Telugu-hero™, making this a very interesting casting choice in an industry that fetishes mustaches and biceps. This Mahesh is a testament that one can look rugged and still be soft as a petal, while the other Mahesh I know does the opposite. Even his photo studio is named Komali, meaning sensitive and soft. Most importantly, the ‘hero’ thanks the things and people around him. Anyone who says “thanks” is kind.
Over and out, Nancharayya, a relative of Mahesh says, “I’ve decided not to intervene in issues that don’t concern me”. That’s it. There you have the solution to every conflict, political, geographical, and mental. Multiple instances portray how interested people are about things that do not matter to them. It’s subtle but drives home the point. Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya is indeed mutually rewarding to those behind the camera and the ones in front of the screen. Let go of the dialect, the sheer laid-backness, the breezy panoramas, and the comedy. Even if none of those work for you, Bijibal’s album will make way into your tracklist and you’ll probably listen to Ningi Chutte for the years to come.
Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopsya is now streaming on Netflix.
Enjoy the film’s vibe with his pleasing song: