This time out it’s a trip to sunny India for a look at the Malayalam language action epic, “Urumi”. Lots of vengeance driven butt kicking action old school style, as we get a chance to see just what sort of Martial Arts stuff was going on in India way back when.
Our synopsis goes like this: “Urumi” is set against the backdrop of the fierce warrior clans of northern Kerala on the Malabar Coast of India in the sixteenth century and focuses on legendary warrior Kelu Nayanar, a man with an epic mission of revenge. His target is Dom Vasco da Gama, the Viceroy of the Portuguese Empire in India. Seeking to avenge his father’s death at da Gama’s own hands, Kelu Nayanar, along with the aid of fierce Muslim warrior princess Ayesha of the famed Arakkal Sultanate of Cannanore, and supported by Vavvali, his childhood friend, must track his mission through the wild roads of treachery, treason and a hidden passion to reach a master plan to create his own local army to stand against the mighty Portuguese empire. His only weapon… a legendary golden urumi ribbon sword, specially made from the left over ornaments of the dead women and children who were burnt alive in the massacre of a Mecca Ship, Miri, commanded to be set on fire and drowned by Vasco da Gama during his second visit to Kerala in AD 1502.”
Mmmmmm!!! Crazy weapons to master… evil foreign invaders to kick the beejeebits out of… a beautiful warrior princess to woo…. some prerequisite singing and dancing numbers to do… and some big screen Martial Arts battle action to pull off? Sounds like our hunky Hero Kelu certainly has his work cut out for him. So what the heck are we waiting for? Let’s all “Read On” shall we?
Seems India really wants to get in on all the fun that up till now has been the mainstay of every other Asian film industry… the Martial Art epic. Can’t say as I blame them really…. Lots of other Asian film industries are reaping some serious profit from the genre. With a long and colorful history to harvest for stories, my only question is why it’s taken them so long to actually do something as sweeping and epic as that for themselves. Well…. “Urumi” certainly wants to remedy that and this wee Catgirl only hopes others as good will follow in it’s footsteps.
It starts out in the modern day as we get introduced to Krishna Das (played by Prithviraj) and his friend “Tarzan” (played by Prabhu Deva), two hapless goofs who’s main activity seems to be nothing more than partying and wasting away their lives along with what little money they make hustling. But then… a big foreign owned mining corporate comes along and offers Krishna a huge payday for some ancestral property he never even knew he owned in Kerala. Excited about this potential “big score”, our two lads head off to see the land and get the signature of the “co-owner” for the sale. Turns out, Krishna’s mom was descended from some serious landowners in the region and had given a lease to have a school built and maintained on the land… a lease that has now expired. The only thing stopping Krishna from selling is the provision requiring the signature of a mentally retarded girl living at the school.
Naturally our boys go to Kerala… and it isn’t hard to find out that the whole deal is as crooked as it could be with the evil foreign mining corporation on the verge of ruining the land and livelihoods of all the poor peasants living in the region. Even so… Krishna is ready to ignore all that and sign off on the deal until he gets kidnapped by some crazy locals and taken to a cave where their “feral guy” leader, Thankachan (played by Arya) tells Krishna the stirring story of his ancestor, the great warrior Kelu, and his heroic stand against the evil Portuguese Empire under the villain Vasco da Gama. Oooohh!! Sounds like flashback time… 😉
Yep… this is the part of the movie we’ve been waiting for. It doesn’t take long for us to learn just what sort of an a**hole Vasco da Gama really was. I know… I know… in Portugal he’s considered quite the hero…. sort of the Portuguese version of Christopher Columbus… but as actual history will confirm, he was also pretty much a brutal sadistic murderer as the Indian people learned the hard way. Only one guy was willing to stand up to his deadly foreign guns and protect the innocent pilgrims he delighted in slaughtering by the boatload. That man was local warrior Chirakkal Kothuwal (also played by Arya). He attacks da Gama’s fleet in a futile attempt to save those poor pilgrims da Gama has ordered burned in their own ship, only to die at the hands of da Gama’s wicked mercenaries. Only Kothuwal’s young son, Kelu…. sliced across the face by da Gama himself… escapes the inferno of that massacre with a burning hatred in his heart that will only be quenched by the righteous vengeance of ridding the world of da Gama once and for all. Found along the shore barely alive, clutching the treasures of the women of the pilgrim ship, he’s taken home by another young Muslim boy, Vavali, where he grows to manhood and learns the deadly Arts of Kalaripayat so that he’ll be able to avenge himself against da Gama upon his return.
He grows up (and is also played by Prithviraj) to follow his father’s teachings about Honor, and arm himself with a golden Urumi Ribbon sword made from those trinkets and treasures of those murdered pilgrims. Then…. made Viceroy of Portuguese India…. the evil da Gama (played by Robin Pratt) returns!! Yep…. you guessed it…. it’s time for some serious butt kicking to commence.
With the stalwart companionship of his “brother” Vavali (played by Prabhu Deva… sensing a trend here?) he sets out in search of the way to force da Gama to leave the protection of his fortress enclave and face him once and for all. First though, our heroes save a Hindi princess, Bala of Kolathunad (played by Nithya Menen), from being abducted by local renegades loyal to the Portuguese. Suspected of being bandits themselves, they get arrested and taken to the royal palace to be put to death. The princess intervenes…. telling how Kelu and Vavali actually saved her from the real culprits. She’s secretly smitten with hunky Vavali of course…. and this being an Indian movie, a romantic subplot or two are always a necessity… Hehehehe!!
Things get a bit complicated here…. but if your favorite Catgirl picked up on things properly, much of the local problems seem to stem from that age old silly rivalry between Muslim and Hindi India. The villainous Portuguese use this as a way of keeping India from being any sort of real opponent in stopping their empire building. Da Gama sends overtures to local kingdoms in the form of “trade agreements” in an attempt to buy allies. Yep…. there’s an evil adviser here, Chenichery Kurup (played by Jagathy Sreekumar), at court secretly plotting with the king’s stupid son Prince Bhanu (played by Ankur Khanna) to sign on with the Portuguese by spreading trouble with the Muslims of the nearby Arakkal Sultanate of Cannanore. Luckily for us… they’ve got a hero of their very own.
That would be sexy warrior princess Ayesha (played by Genelia D’Souza)…. famous for killing 9 of the 10 Portuguese soldiers stupid enough to try to drag her off and rape her one fateful day a while back. Let’s just say I don’t think the single guy she let survive as a warning got off all that easy….. 😉 She’s a fun character…. and naturally she’s our obligatory love interest for Kelu. There’s plenty of smoldering looks…. fantasy dance sequences…. and romantic interludes scattered amongst the rest of our story to keep things from getting boring between crazy fight scenes.
All that fighting involves Kelu deftly maneuvering the silly political stuff at court while taunting da Gama by seizing his vicious son Estavio (played by Alexx O’Nell) and periodically sending his severed fingers home to his dad in an effort to make Vasco crazy insane enough to come after him. Estavio… also a grade A butt-head like his dad… spends lots of screen time threatening to get revenge, and the rest of his time plotting with evil adviser Kurup, to kill the king… seize the throne… and get rid of Kelu once and for all.
Sounds like a dumb idea… especially given Kelu’s idea to raise an army of peasants from both kingdoms… unite them in their hatred of their common foe…. just to face down da Gama’s troops with their guns and cannons…. but hey…. it’s a fantasy action film so we’ll just go with it.
Somehow that all actually works…. for the most part…. and the rag tag force beats their way into da Gama’s fortress so Kelu can pound the living snot out of Vasco and stuff him full of peppercorns before getting himself shot down by the overwhelming number of local mercs working for the Portuguese. Yeah…. not exactly the happy ending you might have hoped for… but if it’s any consolation, the “real” da Gama lived on only to contract malaria and die in the city of Cochin on Christmas Eve in 1524, three months after our story wraps up. Yep…. see you do sometimes learn stuff here at the ol’ Litterbox. 😉
Then…. our flashback over… we fade to the future where Krishna…. invigorated and inspired by his ancestor’s sacrifice… defies the evil foreign mining corporation and refuses to sell his land, choosing instead to back the local people and get all romantic with the school’s headmistress (the reincarnation of sexy warrior princess Ayesha, of course… you just had to see that coming, right?). Happy endings for all…. well…. except all the greedy exploitative foreigners, I guess. 😉
So…. how did all this actually play out for lil’ ol’ me? Surprisingly, it actually was pretty darn good. I had expected to be only moderately entertained by the standard Indian film antics I normally find while watching one of these, but “Urumi” actually took many of the very things that I normally find tedious in Hindi film and make them work to it’s advantage. It’s a long film…. running a good 160 minutes… but actually needs that time to let this story unfold. There are really no extraneous side plots going on either…and that was a refreshing element. Even the singing and dancing numbers work…. never feeling right in most Hindi film, but giving “Urumi” that exotic and epic feel to it’s larger than life story. Sets and costumes are sumptuous and together with good cinematography help to sell the “look” of 16th century India in a most appealing and gorgeous way. The acting is good too…. with Prithviraj’s role as Kelu suitably hunky and romantic, while also hitting all the right notes in the action department. Kelu’s buddy Vivali is a great piece of “buddy chemistry”…. but the real show stealer has to be Genelia D’Souza as Princess Ayesha. She’s got the whole “Xena” vibe down pat…. believable and yet very feminine and sexy all at the same moment. I liked her character a lot…. (and I think my sweetie Carolyn now has quite the “girl crush” for her too…. ;)) hopefully there will be some more similar roles for Miss Genelia in future.
I saw this one on the Malayalam language All region DVD release, although I’m told there are also versions floating around out there in Hindi, Telugu, and even English (under the title “Vasco da Gama”). It’s available most places for the crazy affordable price of 7 to 10$ US with excellent English subtitling. By whatever version you like… your Favorite Catgirl recommends this one heartily. I give it 4 well deserved “Meows” out of 5. It’s by no means an equal to the best of Asian Martial Art epics… but it certainly shows that there are some real possibilities for Indian films of this type in future. In short…. India, please make more!!
Naturally… there’s a big action-y Trailer to get you all excited… and here it goes!