When the promos of the new Khalid Rahman movie Unda came, there was an evident similarity with the Hindi movie Newton. But Unda is not exactly an adaptation of Newton. Even though both movies are exploring the reality of the northern states like Chhattisgarh, Unda has a greater range as it has this comparison between Kerala and Chhattisgarh along with a very humanistic approach in depicting the life of Police officers. The kind of collective heroism one sees at the end may not be in tandem with the tempo of the movie. But still, Unda is a politically strong film that has the capacity to enlighten you.
From the promos, we are all kind of familiar with the plot. A group of police officers from the armed reserve camp are assigned for election duty in the tensed terrains of Chhattisgarh where there is Maoist threat. One group of 8 police officers lead by SI Mani is our major characters. These officers are aided by one military officer named Kapil Dev. The problems they face in conducting a peaceful election because of the place and also their lack of experience in dealing such situations is what Unda all about.
We may all have come across many police officers in real life as a relative or a friend and none of them were Bharathchandran IPS or Rajan Zakariya. The quality that made people like Action Hero Biju was the real representation of police officers and here also we experience the same realness. In one scene, the leader of the team Mani sir experiences a mild heart attack when a bullet is fired. And in another scene, he apologizes to his colleagues for his inability to react properly at that point as a senior commanding officer. When was the last time we saw a hero like that? Even though this is portrayed as some kind of a survival story of a group of police officers with less ammunition, what Khalid Rahman is addressing is the harsh political reality of rural India. Newton being a niche film a part of me felt disappointed that a larger audience might not have watched that film. But an Unda getting made as a mainstream Malayalam cinema with a superstar at the center of it is indeed a great thing as this movie also explores the same reality.
Mammootty as Mani sir is a treat to watch. I was able to relate to this character’s agony and concerns. He is an extremely vulnerable character. That apology scene, the initial moments of him bonding with the team, the story about his marriage and past, etc. were performed so effortlessly by the actor in him. Arjun Ashokan gets to do the role of the most optimistic and enthusiastic person in the gang and it was as good as his June character. Shine Tom Chacko gets a character that sort of has an ego problem and the screenplay smartly incorporates his flaws in the movie. Gokulan and Rony David were memorable. Jacob Gregory might still be sleeping. Abhiram Poduval who was seen in Sudani from Nigeria gets a juicier character in Unda. Bhagwan Tiwari, Noushad Bombay, Dileesh Pothan, Ranjith, Omkar Das, etc are the other main names in the movie. And a special mention should be given to Lukman for portraying the hardships of the police officer with a tribal background very effectively.
After Anuraga Karikkin Vellam, Khalid Rahman once again invests his time in creating sensible characters along with screenwriter Harshad. If the first movie was about the perception of love in life, this movie is more about serious political issues that we don’t even care. And unlike Newton, here there is an additional factor of the way the police are treated, especially by our state. The character played by Lukman has a significant place in the movie as the treatment given to him by others and the whole Maoist narrative has parallels. When the movie eventually ends with a literal clash between police and a gang of goons, we are ultimately given a picture about a fake narrative that we all accepted sitting kilometers away from the Chambal in the comfort of law and order. The visuals are intense and effective and the production design is also commendable. The pacing was done nicely by the editor who had to compromise the style when it came to that last fight. The background score was also pretty effective. The sound design played a crucial role in creating that tense ambiance.
Unda has abundant practical humor in its narrative. And at the same time, it hooks you up with its very real and new backdrop. The helplessness Mani sir feels when he says goodbye to Kunalchand is the same helplessness one will feel at the end of Unda. Unda is a politically relevant subject addressed with authenticity and the quality performances only enhanced its value.
Even though this is portrayed as some kind of a survival story of a group of police officers with less ammunition, what Khalid Rahman is addressing is the harsh political reality of rural India.