Film: "Udhayam NH4"; Cast: Siddharth Suryanarayan, Ashrita Shetty, Kay Kay Menon, Avinash, Deepak, Ajai, Kalai, Vivek and Naren; Director: Manimaran; Rating: ***1/2 - salvaged by presentation, taut screenplay.
One of the reasons "Udhayam NH4" deserves a watch is because it happens to be a first-of-its-kind road film executed to perfection in Tamil cinema history. Presentation and racy screenplay keep this film engaged in what is otherwise a run-of-the-mill love story milked dry over the years.
Revolving mostly around the highway connecting Karnataka and Tamil Nadu via Andhra Pradesh, "Udhayam NH4" takes you on one helluva ride with occasional bumpers.
When Ritika, daughter of a high-profiled politician Avinash, is kidnapped by her classmate Prabhu, who is supposedly in love with her, the responsibility of bringing her back is given to a local encounter specialist, Manoj Menon. It is revealed after initial investigation that Ritika is also in love with Prabhu, and the duo might have eloped together.
Avinash insists that Ritika be brought back before the midnight that ushers in her eighteenth birthday because stopping her after that, is legally impossible. As Manoj tries to track down them down with the help of information that he gets from Prabhu's roommate and friends, the couple attempts to leave Karnataka in order to reach Tamil Nadu, where Prabhu's uncle, a lawyer, hopes to get them married.
However, it doesn't take Manoj much time to figure out the whereabouts of Prabhu and Ritika, but every time he attempts to corner them, they get away miraculously. Will Manoj achieve what he set out to accomplish? This forms the rest of the story.
By not treading the path several Tamil films have opted for over the years, "Udhayam NH4" manages to carve its own path from the word go. The entire narrative is built on a single highway where all characters at one given point in time cross paths, hence making it a recurring backdrop throughout the film.
Crisply written by filmmaker Vetrimaaran, one can feel his presence all the way even though the film is helmed by debutant Manimaran. Vetri's dialogues too laced with subtle humour and sarcasm, make way to laughs at regular intervals. Most of these signature moments work in the favour of the film, allowing audiences to be entertained while hinged to their seats. The tension mounts with every passing minute. As Manoj gradually realises the gravity of the situation and begins to feel the chills crawling up his spine, you feel it too.
The film boasts of few very well written sub-plots that play parallely in the film. These sub-plots pave way to some intelligently crafted scenes in the film. One of the sub-plots is the conversations Manoj has with his wife, who at home is waiting for him to join their son's birthday party. These conversations are not just funny, but add a very important perspective to the entire narrative.
Other sub-plots about the statutory warning against nicotine and substance abuse is handled with deftness and humour. One may be amazed at the number of scenes that involve the characters smoking or drinking in the film, but most are very likely to miss its impact. It is one of these wonderfully executed scenes in Tamil cinema of recent times.
There is good and bad side to the role essayed by Kay Kay Menon, an arrogant yet intelligent police officer, who plays his role with ease and conviction. Siddharth, mostly known for essaying lover boy roles, leaves everybody in awe with his never-seen-before avatar. Debutante Ashrita Shetty struggles to express the innocence of a college-goer in most important scenes of the film.
While GV Prakash's music becomes repetitive after a point in time, dubbing and re-recording are the biggest flaws of the film. It is understood that most characters are bound to speak with a heavy Kannada accent since the story is mostly set in Karnataka, but sadly no effort seems to have been taken to ensure lip sync for the dialogues. It almost felt like watching a dubbed film in Tamil.