This Malayalam movie is typical story of crime, revenge, and political-mafia nexus, all rolled into one
One of the things that stand out in Underworld is its conversations. Now, this is not a positive comment, for conversations are not supposed to stand out, but gel in, without making us feel that the person on screen is delivering lines someone else has written.
Take for instance a series of conversations between Padmanabhan Nair (Mukesh), a wily politician undergoing jail term in a corruption case, and Solomon (Lal Jr.), a criminal who has not only kept the ₹500 crore of the politician’s loot in safe custody, but also has an eye on it. Every single time Solomon visits him in jail, they speak to each other in riddles, to issue veiled threats or make a point, with questions like “Your family is all fine?”
Even Stalin John (Asif Ali), a small-time thug who thinks highly of himself, is not free from this particular affliction. It is almost as if normal conversations are impossible in their parallel world. At the same time, director Arun Kumar Aravind spoils some scenes by over-explaining, like where Stalin John, after a confrontation with a local leader of the Communist party tells him — “You know what Stalin is capable of, right?”. The camera then zooms into a book on Josef Stalin lying on the leader’s table and remains there, in case the viewer missed it all the time it was there as a prop.
Written by Shibin Francis, Underworld is a typical story of crime, revenge, and political-mafia nexus, all rolled into one, with a lot of scenes written specifically for the protagonist to walk with a swagger, in slow motion. Stalin and another local thug Majeed (Farhaan Faasil) strike up a friendship in jail and arrives at a deal with Padmanabhan Nair to help him recover his money from Solomon, in return for their freedom.
The central characters are mostly written in vague strokes, with only faint hints of their backgrounds. Solomon’s evilness is established early on, in a scene where he shoots down his pet dog. Padmanabhan Nair makes one feel as if he is the master of all the puppets, with his cryptic lines on how even his own arrest was part of the plan, but the script does not have anything in store to show that he was ever in control. The women characters, except Stalin’s lawyer and mother, get sidelined after two or three scenes.
After a moderately engaging first half, things go quickly downhill, as all the build-up for a face-off seems as hollow as the bombastic lines some of the characters mouth. Riding high on its style quotient, accentuated by an effective background score, Underworld does not have the substance to make it a memorable take on the world of crime. The heft is only in the dialogues, not in its material.