A meta guide on metaness
Chennai: ‘Reading’ the various meanings apparently embedded in Uttama Villain is the biggest small-scale industry in these parts now.
From the truly intelligent and insightful to downright bizarre (I mean the film doesn’t become a tacit tribute to Sivaji Ganesan’s family just because you happened to see the film in Kamala* theatre), the interpretations have been many.
But not wanting to be left behind, we at Crank’s News have come up with a ready reckoner to all those (like us) who cannot generally understand subtext of films unless they are shown along in bold letters as a subtitle.
We urge you to use this handy guide so that you appear intellectual when you discuss the film with your friends and acquaintances, which, you will appreciate, is the whole point of any attempted reading of the so-called subtext.
We start off with ‘analysing’ some of the names of the characters in the film:
Manohar: In Tamil Nadu, (RS) Manohar is deemed the father of mythological dramas. So you must assert “Kamal plays Manohar’s father in the film and in essence conveys the idea that he is actually the biggest daddy of mythological dramas, which, as it happens, he plays in the film”. Now watch your friends’ collective jaw drop in amazement.
Yamini: Kamal’s former lover in the film and reportedly a takeoff on real-life Srividhya with whom he allegedly had a relationship in his early days. Of course, this has been pointed out by almost everyone. But your gambit to be one-up on your friends is to say that “Yamini literally takes off from where Srividhya leaves and point to the last two letters of the latter is verily the first two letters of the former.” Ya!
Mutharasan: “Is Kamal counterpointing Theyyam against Karagattam? Remember Muthiah was the name of Ramarajan in Kargattakaran.” Usually such pronouncements will get you this reaction: “Deep”.
Margadarsi: This is the title of the group that owns the renowned ‘Film City’. “Does anyone else get the idea that Kamal named KB Margadarsi as a nod to the fact he was virtually his one-man Film City in his growing-up days?” should be your seemingly casual query on online forums. You can pass an entire night discussing this point.
Arpana: “Look at the genius of Kamal’s writing, how he hints that she (the doctor played by Andrea) is his hidden praana!” If your friends look askance at you, you must deadpan, “it’s an anagram, dude”. Anagrams usually shut most people off.
Now on to meta readings:
In this type of exposition, you can be, — actually, you must be — as random as possible. It will add vital brownie points to your intellectual heft.
“Pooja Kumar (PK) in a boyish bob cut, a la Anushka Shrama in PK. I almost felt like Kamal insouciantly answering all his fans who expected him to remake that Hindi film in Tamil with ‘You wanted a PK remake, no? Here take it, this is my remake of PK ’”. “The fact that Kamal is shown running scared of a mice virtually hints that he is an, er, Alien (eli-an) (Aamir’s character)”, you add for good measure. The double-language pun usually works with Kamal fans souped up on a steady diet of ‘Crazy’ dialogues.
“In a shot K Balachander is shown in a cap and (French) beard directing Kamal in a shot. In KB’s person Kamal almost places his other well-known early-period influences Balumahendra (cap) and R C Shakthi (beard).” The problem with such observations is your followers may think that you are a real art aficionado and invite you to Slovenian Film Festival when it happens in the city. You, for the record, don’t know in which continent Slovenia is.
“I am told Kamal dubbed for himself, after a long time, in the Telugu version of the film. Otherwise it’s either SPB or Mano who gives voice to him in Telugu. Hah, look at the delicious irony and meta inversion: Kamal has turned the tables here by giving voice to Mano”.
“Mano (Kamal) tells his assistant Chokku (M S Bhaskar) to get Zachariah (Jeyaram) arrested by the Commissioner of police. Note, he doesn’t say get him arrested by the police. He is very specific about Commissioner. And pray who the Commissioner of Chennai now is? Yes, it’s George. Hah! Goosebumps. George is, of course, the name of Srividhya’s husband, on whom Zachariah character is based. This is taking meta to its metaest”.
Now that you are in the flow, you should go for the jugular in terms of total randomness:
“When Kamal speaks to his son, after playing around with the cricket ball, he (son) opens up to him about his other side. Is it just me who felt that it was a wonderful touch that Kamal had this cricket scene when his son shows up his veritable doosra? That the actor playing his son is named Ashwin in real life can’t be put down to mere coincidence”. You must twitlonger this for full impact.
You must also wonder whether Kamal named his character in the in-film as Uttaman as a minor hat-doffing to the movie of the same name starring Sivaji Ganesan. The editor of the Sivaji starrer is —- wait for it — Sanjeevi. From here on linking to immortality, the theme of the in-film, is a cinch. Also, as an aside, you can point to the fact that Uttaman is also the name of a Malayalam film starring, ahem, Jeyaram. A doffing of hat within a doffing of hat. “Only Kamal fossible” should be your hashtag.
“As the film ends, with Kamal dying while the camera pans on to the family along with its patriarch Poornachandra Rao (K Vishwanath) watching his in-film, it seamlessly shifts the mood to another film, Vishwanath’s own Salangai Oli, where too Kamal dies in the last scene with the caption rolling: ‘Art Has No End’. Indeed. Indeed. No end to Kamal’s art. What conceit! What brilliance!”
(Disclaimer: I have no problems in intense, in-depth reading of any film. This piece is just for pure fun. No other reading should be made. There I said it)
(*Kamala is the name of Sivaji’s wife)