Uriyadi feels like a less commercial version of Pa Ranjith’s Madras — how that film would have been like if it had not had a star for its lead, and had not spent too much time on the romantic track and songs. It also has some resemblance to Subramaniapuram — the leads in this film are as hot-blooded as those in Sasikumar’s film, and the murders are as chilling. There is also a nod to Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva (here, it involves a bike chain). And yet, this is an original film that works both as an action thriller and as a social commentary. At a time when most filmmakers try to go for a fail-safe approach, debutant Vijay Kumar gives us a violent tale of caste, politics and youth. He boldly gives us a peek into how and why caste outfits turn into political parties. A caste outfit leader proclaims, “Nammala vittu thaniya ninna yaarum jeikka mudiyathunu kaatanum”. Uriyadi is set in the 90s (AR Rahman’s songs drift in the background; Simran is the poster girl) in an unspecified small town, but lines like this one reiterate how relevant the film feels.
The story revolves around four engineering students who are drifters. When their principal asks them what their aim in life is, one guy says, “Jolly-a irukkanum”. That is their extent of their dreams, and that is what they intend to do. One night, they fight for an old man from a lower caste to be allowed to dine in the roadside dhaba they frequent. This results in a conflict with members of a caste outfit, but before things get out of hand, the group’s leader brokers peace. But this peace is fragile as the boys keep getting into problems — mostly of their own making and at times, by fate. That the town is heavily divided on caste lines only expedites their destiny. And after a point of time, it becomes a battle for survival for the students.
The twists and turns in Uriyadi have us on the edge of our seats for most of the time, and the film keeps going back and forth in time to keep us unsettled. The onscreen violence, just like the film, is raw and real (the somewhat flat visuals even add to this in a rather unintended way). It gives us a jolt — as it should. There are a couple of nail-bitingly tense stunt sequences — one involves a killer in the guise of a beggar, and the other, an almost wordless stretch, shows characters being murdered in ruthless fashion. The film, generally, doesn’t have a use for length dialogues, but when it does use dialogues, the lines are hard-hitting — “Patha vekkara maadhiri patha vecha oru theekuchiyala oru kaataye koluthidalam”.
This is a film where there is very little time for romance, but the few minutes that we get are effective and believable. And even though there is friendship, this theme is dealt with in a refreshingly low-key manner, and doesn’t get underscored as it does in the films of Samuthirakani and Sasikumar. The climax might seem immoral and unlawful to some, but with its deft handling of a subject that is a double-edged sword, Uriyadi displays a daring that belies its small-budget, first-film credentials, and stakes its claim in the list of the best films of the year.