Review: ‘Ullozhukku,’ Urvashi, Parvathy Thiruvothu and Arjun Radhakrishnan

July 4, 2024

by Carla Hay

Urvashi and Parvathy Thiruvothu in “Ullozhukku” (Photo courtesy of Central Pictures)


Directed by Christo Tomy

Malayalam with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Kuttanad, India, the dramatic film “Ullozhukku” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A young widow from a middle-class background has conflicts with her wealthy mother-in-law, as preparations are made for the funeral of the widow’s recently deceased husband.  

Culture Audience: “Ullozhukku” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and are interested in watching a well-acted drama that has realistic family problems.

Arjun Radhakrishnan in “Ullozhukku” (Photo courtesy of Central Pictures)

Bolstered by credible performances by Parvathy Thiruvothu and Urvashi, the absorbing drama “Ullozhukku” offers an intriguing look at a family disrupted by secrets. The story examines the dilemmas of following traditions versus following one’s heart. An arranged marriage is the starting point for the conflicts that ensue in the story, but the movie is not a criticism of arranged marriages. Rather, it’s a candid observation of what can happen when people have conflicting motives for a marriage, and how these conflicts can do damage in the long run.

Written and directed by Christo Tomy, “Ullozhukku” (which means “undercurrent” in Malayalam) takes place in Kuttanad, India. During most of the story, a steady downpour of rain has caused flooding in Kuttanad, resulting in the delay of the funeral that is a main event in the story. The movie’s title refers to the undercurrent of secrets and lies that could be exposed and could change the lives of family members.

The beginning of “Ullozhukku” shows the wedding of Anju (played by Thiruvothu) and Thomaskutty (played by Prashanth Murali), attended by both sides of the family. It’s an arranged marriage. Thomaskutty is a “mama’s boy” who is doted on by his strong-willed and wealthy mother Leelamma (played by Urvashi), who is divorced. Her ex-husband is deceased.

Anju’s middle-class parents Joseph (played by Alencier Ley Lopez) and Jiji (played by Jaya Kurup) are thrilled that Anju is marrying into a rich family. Anju is an only child. The wedding celebration is festive, although Leelamma gets emotional about “losing” Thomaskutty, who will be starting a new life as a married man.

Some of the wedding happiness was just a façade from Anju, the newlywed bride. During the honeymoon, when Thomaskutty initiates sexual intimacy with her, Anju seems repulsed and is very reluctant to go along with what he wants. It’s a loveless marriage that Anju didn’t really want but she felt pressured by her family to marry Thomaskutty.

It turns out there’s more to why Anju didn’t want to marry Thomaskutty: She’s still in love with a man named Rajeev (played by Arjun Radhakrishnan), whom she broke up with when she got engaged to Thomaskutty. Anju’s parents disapprove of Rajeev (who works as a restaurant server) because he’s in a lower caste and he has a history of being unemployed.

Even though Anju is now married, Rajeev is persistent in wanting to see Anju. At first she tries to avoid Rajeev. But it isn’t long before Anju and Rajeev resume their love affair—this time in secret. Anju and Rajeev become sexually intimate again around the same time that Thomaskutty becomes gravely ill (he has seizures and vomits) and needs 24-hour home care.

Anju and Thomaskutty have a loveless marriage, but Anju pretends to Leelamma that Anju is a devoted wife. The timing of Anju and Rajeev re-igniting their love affair can be interpreted as a way for Anju to escape from the ordeal of her miserable marriage to someone who doesn’t love her and who has a very grim medical diagnosis of having a terminal illness. Thomaskutty has a tumor, but the movie doesn’t say where.

Leelamma moves in with Anju and Thomaskutty to help in taking care of Thomaskutty. With Leelamma in the household, she spends time with Anju and begins to open up to Anju about her life. Leelamma tells Anju that Leelamma’s ex-husband was very cruel to Thomaskutty and eventually abandoned the family when Thomakutty was a child.

Leelamma also expresses heartbreak over her strained relationship with her first child Sheba (played by Smruthi Anish), who is a few years older than Thomaskutty. Sheba rarely visits or contacts Leelamma and Thomaskutty. Leelamma feels abandoned by Sheba and tells Anju that if anything happens to Thomaskutty, then Leelamma doesn’t want Anju to leave Leelamma.

However, Anju secretly has other plans. After Thomaskutty inevitably dies, Anju wants to move out of the area with Ranjeev. Ranjeev later tells Anju that he wants more financial security before they live together. He says he intends to get a better-paying job, and he pressures Anju to convince Leelamma to sign over property to Anju as a widow inheritance.

It’s around this time that Anju finds out that she’s pregnant. She want to keep her pregnancy a secret from Leelamma, but Leelamma figures out that Anju is pregnant because of how Anju is acting. For example, Leelamma catches Anju touching her own abdomen in the way that pregnant women do.

Anju admits to Leelamma that she’s pregnant. The news is announced to the rest of the family. All of this information is revealed in the trailer for “Ullozhukku.” What isn’t revealed in the trailer (but it’s revealed in the movie) is which man is the father of the unborn child. The impending birth of this child makes Leelamma even more determined to exert some control in Anju’s life.

Leelamma is elated that she’s going to become a grandmother, which is one of the main reasons why she was so eager for Thomaskutty to get married. However, shortly after this pregnancy news is revealed, Thomaskutty ends up in a hospital, where he dies. Because of recent flooding in the area, Thomaskutty’s funeral is postponed for several days.

During this waiting period, tensions start to simmer and increase between Leelamma and Anju. After Thomaskutty dies, Anju starts to assert herself more and lets it be known that she’s not going to be a passive widow. The rest of the movie is about how those conflicts are dealt with by various people, as more secrets and lies emerge. A nun named Sister Rosamma (played by Veenah Naair) becomes somewhat of a grief counselor to the family, and she has a pivotal role in the story.

The funeral arrangements also prompt the arrival of Sheba (played by Smruthi Anish), an irritable snob, who never approved of Anju because Sheba thinks Anju’s caste is beneath what Thomaskutty should’ve married. While Anju is desperate to escape from Thomaskutty’s family to be with Rajeev, Anju’s parents are pressuring her to stay close to Leelamma so that Anju and her unborn child can benefit from Leelamma’s wealth.

“Ullozhukku” keeps viewers in suspense over what will happen in this story and doesn’t follow a lot of predictable storylines. It should come as no surprise that Leelamma has secrets too, but they aren’t as shocking as what some viewers might expect. “Ullozhukku” doesn’t pass judgment on Anju’s infidelity but it does have a scathing indictment of what caste prejudices and greed can do to people and relationships.

What also makes “Ullozhukku” an above-average family drama is that the movie doesn’t present anyone as a clear “hero” or “villain.” (Sheba is the most mean-spirited character in the film, but the movie hints there’s more to Sheba’s story that remains untold.) The main characters are all flawed human beings who make selfish decisions that are often motivated by love intentions, even if those intentions might be misguided or wrong by other people’s standards.

“Ullozhukku” has very artful direction and a well-written screenplay. However, the “Ullozhukku” wouldn’t be as impactful if the wrong people had been cast in the film. The movie’s performances show admirable talent, especially from Thiruvothu and Urvashi, who don’t hit any false notes in their scenes.

Anju and Leelamma are two women who are seemingly very different from each other but they actually have something big in common: They are both lonely people who want to find happiness with a loved one, even if painful sacrifices need to be made. “Ullozhukku” has a powerful ending scene that shows how people can learn unexpected things about themselves and what they want out of life.

Central Pictures released “Ullozhukku” in select U.S. cinemas on July 4, 2024. The movie was released in India on June 21, 2024.

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