Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya Review | Shoeless and Soulful

Before we get into this review I want to make one thing clear: I was not a fan of C/O Kancharapalem. While I understand that the movie spoke to certain audiences, I often found the script boring with a cast that gave mixed performances ranging from immersed to unenthused and a plot twist that couldn't save it from its stumbles. This isn't to say I wish it or its creators any ill will. I think independent cinema such as C/O Kancharapalem is lacking in many film industries across India and I applaud their attempt. I just wanted to share my thoughts on director Maha Venkatesh's debut film prior to talking about his sophomore project, a film that I think is much better in many ways.

Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya is a Telugu remake of the National Film Award winning Malayalam film Maheshinte Prathikaaram. It tells a story of Uma Maheswara Rao, a kind-hearted cameraman who runs a small studio in a town where he knows almost everybody. He lives a simple life with his father and the film is a slice of that life during a period of time where he reaches his lowest point and is trying to redeem himself after being humiliated in front of most of the town. Having not seen the Malayalam film, I had the benefit of going into UMUR without any expectations, and other than a few particularly slow moments the film remains engaging throughout. It's clear that Maha Venkatesh is not only good at showcasing small-town life with a healthy dose of banter, but he's also passionate about it. From conversations during lunch to interactions on the side of the road, the soul of Araku is displayed authentically here.

No doubt thanks to an increased budget, UMUR is technically a much more sound film than Kancharapalem. It's lensed purposefully by Appu Prabhakar and the color grading is consistent and appropriate for any given scene. The score by Bijibal, who also composed for Maheshinte Prathikaaram, is soft and melodious and while none of the tracks stuck with me, they meshed well into the film's narrative.

Performances in UMUR are great with Naresh as Babji really stealing the show. Satyadev Kancharana gives a very genuine performance despite some moments that edge on overdramatic. Suhas, who plays a character also named Suhas, acts as a sidekick to Babji and Uma Maheswara Rao and he provides humor and levity without taking away from the drama. One of the best-written characters however is one that, while they only appear infrequently during the movie, they offer some of the film's best dialogue and that is Manohar Rao played by Raghavan. His lines are the most profound and poetic and their delivery is spot on. It's this cast of core characters that makes UMUR memorable despite its flaws.

Speaking of flaws, the thing that holds back Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya is its numerous tangential storylines. Characters and conflicts are introduced only to serve the progression of the story and then never brought up again. That isn't to say that they need to be cut because the time the film spends away from Uma Maheswara happens to be some of the most entertaining. The random cutaway to an Indian couple in America fighting over who-said-what and Babji getting CPR for faking gas pain made me laugh more than anything Uma himself did. It's just that when looking back their stories feel unnecessary to the revenge tale at hand. The film also has an extended sequence where an activist group dances to popular Telugu and English songs. The scene lasts about five minutes and while its necessity in the story is clear, it overstays its welcome. Especially considering how little time the romance between Uma Maheswara and Jyoti is given to blossom before the abrupt ending.

Ultimately, Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya is a great sophomore film for director Maha Venkatesh. Thanks to the already acclaimed story and a strong cast, the film is at its best when focusing on the small town struggles of a cameraman. It does get too convoluted for its own good and often throws in characters that don't add much to the narrative, but none of that stops it from being compelling. Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya is streaming now on Netflix.

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