Uppena is set in a chirpy-little village, Uppada, in the scenic locales of Kakinada. Kotagiri Sesha Rayanam is a no-nonsense, arrogant leader-like figure of the village, whose world revolves around his college-going daughter Sangeetha a.k.a Bebamma. He’s extremely protective of her but the girl is a free spirit and seeks joy in the little pleasures of life. At the other end of the village is a fisherman Jalaiah and his hot-blooded son Aasi. Aasi has set his eyes on Bebamma since childhood and his joy knows no bounds when she reciprocates his love too. Rayanam is a man who holds his honour and power above anything else in life. Will the two unlike poles meet?
Uppena takes a leaf out of the Romeo Juliet-like universe where the social divide is the root cause of conflict in the relationship between a village leader’s daughter and a fisherman’s son. The girl is compared to the skies and the boy is equated to the seas – are they destined to unite? Uppena reminds a lot of yesteryear classics like Seethakoka Chiluka, earlier films of director Teja including Jayam, Avunanna Kadanna, and to an extent, the Marathi film Sairat, but the sincere writing and solid performances elevate the material by a fair distance.
Buchi Babu Sana brings back the long-lost tenderness and innocence in romances in Telugu cinema. The lead pair shares infectious on-screen chemistry – there’s madness, tension and mischief in their relationship. The film has a sluggish start in the initial 30-minutes – there’s a desperate effort to lend a likeable quality to the male lead and much time is wasted to establish the animalistic rage in Rayanam. Beyond the romance and this fluff, there’s enough substance in the writing.
The story questions the very idea of masculinity and asks uncomfortable questions – can a relationship last without physical pleasure? The purity in the equation between a single father and son too warms you instantly, they’re more like pals. There are well-timed mythological and metaphorical references in the visuals and the dialogues. The religion aspect is aptly underplayed. The good music helps one overlook the flaws in the story.
Of course, predictability is one of Uppena’s biggest issues and the viewer is always one step ahead of the story. The issues ailing the fishermen community could have been explored in greater depth. The ending is dialogue-heavy and even cinematic/unrealistic to a certain extent. Yet, Uppena strikes a chord because of its honesty. The director’s intention isn’t merely to give a launchpad for the male lead and he attempts to tell a story with certain sincerity.
Vaishnav Tej makes a confident debut in Uppena and the character-driven nature of the storytelling taps the performer in him quite well. The actor has made a sincere effort to absorb the lifestyle and the mannerisms of a fisherman. Krithi Shetty is shaky to start off, but her character Bebamma grows on you over time. The 17-year-old displays ample maturity and depth as a performer, peeling into the many layers of a partly submissive, partly free-spirited character.
Vijay Sethupathi is excellent with his villainy despite the obviousness in the role – there’s a style and composure in the portrayal one would always associate with the actor. He hardly raises his voice and makes an impact with the little gestures that add a lot of depth and meaning to the performance It would’ve been doubly effective had the actor dubbed for himself. Sai Chand is ageing like fine-wine, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as the strong-willed, good-hearted father of the male lead. It’s a welcome change to see him essay a role in an East Godavari backdrop. Gayathri Jayaraman and the actor in the role of Thalimpu make a good impression in their brief screen time.
Music and other departments:
Devi Sri Prasad puts his heart and soul into the film and the songs prove to be an icing on the cake alongside an impactful background score that’s also benefited by the superb sound design. Shamdat’s cinematography instils life into the locations, surreal backdrops and lends a poetic touch to the visual experience. It’s otherwise jarring that the makers had to use poor CG to shoot the song on a boat. The film could have been shorter by at least 15-20 minutes, especially in the second hour. The dialogues are the lifeline of the film.
A dull start and a shaky second half
Fine performances & writing salvage this predictable romance
Rating : 2.75/5
(Written by Srivathsan Nadadhur)