Unda movie star cast: Mammootty, Shine Tom Chacko, Jacob Gregory, Arjun Ashokan
Unda movie director: Khalid Rahman
Unda movie rating: 5 stars
Unda is one of the best-written films in Malayalam cinema. It is not just a film about a group of naive policemen from Kerala grappling with the challenges of an unknown territory. The actual story lies in the subtext, which never stops reminding us about the innate flaw of the human race: one tries to assume a sense of superiority by dominating or looking down on the other.
A huge team of policemen from Kerala get assigned to provide protection to polling booths during the elections in Maoist-infected areas in north India. The policemen who arrive in Chhattisgarh are oblivious to the enormity of the prevailing security challenges there. As the train arrives at their destination, a few cheerful cops make water bottle caps pop off with air pressure creating sounds of gunshots. The harmless prank alarms the local security personnel. It also enrages a Hindi-speaking police officer who frowns at the juvenility of his compatriots from down south. He even refuses to shake hands with the policemen from Kerala.
For the majority of cops, this election duty is equivalent to a pleasure trip, which is fully paid for by the government. Even high-ranking officials of the squad take the threat lightly until they get fired at.
SI Mani (brilliantly played by Mammootty) is the head of a small squad assigned to a polling booth, which is located deep in the woods of Bastar. The territory is fraught with danger. The squad could step on a landmine, or they could be ambushed by Maoists. But, there is a lot more at stake.
A young cop who has plans to get married soon. A cop who learns that he became a father to beautiful twin girls. Another cop who is seething with anger towards his colleagues because his marriage is on the verge of divorce. And a slew other young men who badly want to get back to their families alive. And there is Mani who hasn’t fired a single bullet in his life and is now put in a situation, where his worst nightmare comes alive.
Mammootty’s nuanced acting is a total delight to watch. The superstar, who single-handedly defeated an army of bad guys and blood-hounds in his last film (Madhura Raja), pulls off a realistic performance as a middle-aged man with a frail heart.
Mammootty’s crafty performance is complemented by the pitch-perfect supporting cast. Especially, Lukman as a cop from the tribal community, Shine Tom Chacko as a seething husband, a sympathetic Arjun Ashokan and an ever-suspicious Rony David has lent a unique personality to their characters thereby leaving a mark.
Writer-director Khalid Rahman along with his co-writer Harshad has effectively provided a moving and honest perspective into the human condition. The subtext subverts the film on a massive scale. Unda deals with multiple hard-hitting themes like human right violations, moral crisis, ethnic discrimination and government’s indifference to its own people.
Take Mani and team, for example. They have not been supplied with an ample amount of ammunition by their government to defend themselves against Maoists. The central security forces treat Kerala cops like a bunch of amateurs, rather than equals. And it also doesn’t bother to provide the ill-equipped cops with required bullets leaving them to fend for themselves. It appears that neither the state government nor the central forces could care less if the cops live or die.
The indigenous people of Bastar are also in the same predicament as they don’t feel the sense of belonging. They are exploited and robbed of their basic rights. They are chased away from their own land, and it seems people in power could not care less if they live or die. For the most part, the film deals with such heavy themes in a light way.
Unda is a bold and daring act of expression that draws parallels between the violence perpetrated by gun-wielding Maoists and power-wielding corrupt politicians. The film doesn’t offer easy solutions to the human and moral crisis that unfolds on screen. It simply mirrors the life-altering problems stemming from the amoral power structure.