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From Ponmuttayidunna Tharaavu To Ullozhukku: A Look At Some Of Urvashi's Best Works

Urvashi's continuing popularity is largely because she has never banked excessively on glamour. She has always owned her age on screen, and crafted exceptional performances from the mundane.

From Ponmuttayidunna Tharaavu To Ullozhukku: A Look At Some Of Urvashi's Best Works


Last Updated: 06.36 AM, Jun 18, 2024


IN the Malayalam cinema of the early 90s, women rarely flourished beyond the patriarchal spaces allotted to them. In hindsight two of our biggest female actors during that period—Urvashi and Shobana always stood within their comfort zones. They primed in narratives that aligned with masculism. What sets Urvashi apart from her contemporaries is how she found a vantage point even in those ordinary characters. Be it the devious Snehalatha who cons her boyfriend into gifting her a gold chain to dump him after in Ponmuttayidunna Tharaavu, the middle-class housewife who longs for a fancier lifestyle in Thalayanamanthram or the naïve Tamilian girl who falls for her father’s assistant in Mazhavil Kavadi, she could uplift them with her comic finesse and subtlety. A lesser actor could have made them one-dimensional. In her comeback, Urvashi picked up from where she left off, slipping into mostly mother characters, but even there she crafted exceptional performative pieces from the mundane. And to be fair they mostly don’t fit the stereotype of the forever martyred matriarch. She always owned her age on screen. One reason for her continuing popularity is that Urvashi has never banked excessively on glamour. Also, in her second innings, she dubbed in her voice, which was missing in a large body of her earlier work (Dubbing artist Bhagyalakshmi used to dub for her as directors wanted a “sweet” voice). Christo Tomy’s crime drama Ullozhukku, which will witness Urvashi partnering with Parvathy Thiruvothu for the first time is all set for a world premiere on June 21. Such an occasion demands a quick recap of some of the stellar outings Urvashi had in the last decade.

In the 2018 comedy-drama, Aravindante Athithikal directed by M Mohanan, Urvashi, at least in writing plays an unremarkable middle-aged homemaker. Girija is in her 50s and is visiting a temple town for her daughter’s Bharatnatyam Arangetram. But the minute she enters the screen, Urvashi brings a comic vivacity to the narrative that’s infectious to watch. For instance, Girija’s relationship with her daughter steers away from the stereotype—even the most critical situations are dealt with lightness, and Urvashi aces them. Or, consider the superb comic moment between Girija and her mom-in-law in which they are conspiring against her husband; Urvashi makes it look completely impromptu.

Urvashi in Ponmuttayidunna Tharaavu.
Urvashi in Ponmuttayidunna Tharaavu.

If there is anything Dr Shirely in Anoop Sathyan’s Varane Avashyamundu (2020) and Girija have in common, then it is that both have a terrific sense of humour. But what’s sublime is how she creates a moment of pathos amidst this goofiness. Take this scene that requires Shirley to inform her son’s girlfriend (Kalyani Priyadarshan) that their marriage has been called off, and Urvashi begins awkwardly wondering how to break the news to her. But once it’s out, her subtlety, even when you know she is struggling to hold back her tears is nothing short of a masterclass.

While Shyamala in Sakudumbam Shyamala (2010) is ordinary from the word go. Her whole existence revolves around her husband, son, and estranged brother, and everything she does stems from impulsiveness and immaturity. Be it contesting the elections and winning them, just so that she can get back at her brother for abandoning her. What salvages this middling, melodramatic narrative has to be Urvashi who assuredly sells her naivety and pulls you towards her to sit and watch her unravel a spectrum of emotions, ranging from over-the-top, inane, dramatic to nuanced.

But Baby inspired by a real-life character in Suresh Mari’s J Baby (2024) is what you would call in Kollywood parlance, a stereotypical celluloid mother. She is still mourning her deceased husband and can’t see a world beyond her five adult children. But when family conflicts start to wear her down, Baby is on the verge of losing her mind and has to get treatment. Urvashi grapples with the emotions and body language of the character with calculated precision, keeping an eye on the “drama meter” in that part of the world. Those tragic howls that drift into uneasy quietness, having to negotiate between her children, and the absolute empathy she emanates make you want to reach out to her. In Sudha Kongara’s Soorarai Pottru (2020), her Pechi Rajangan leans towards over-the-top, aligning with the region she belongs to and though not a personal favourite, one can’t find fault with that performance. Take for instance the sequence that has a distraught Maaran reaching late for his dad’s funeral only to face his mother’s fury—Urvashi’s Pechi seems to be living the part.

You can witness a cross between a toned-down Baby and Girija in Priyadarshan’s Appatha (2023). In the village, Appatha is popular for her pickle-making unit, which she runs with the aid of local women. A widow, she lives alone while her son is settled in the city with his family. He largely ignores her existence which hurts her but tries hard not to show it to the world. Though it is a character brimming with maternal warmth, Urvashi tempers the cloying sweetness with her inherent sense of comic timing. So you get stretches of her lightheartedness as she wrestles with a canine and equally emotionally wrought sequences that she effectively pulls off with very little theatrics.

Urvashi in Ullozhukku.
Urvashi in Ullozhukku.

As for RJ Balaji’s Mookuthi Amman in which Urvashi plays his mother, she is at her wittiest best. Look out for the portions when she realises that Mookuthi Amman (Nayanthara) is in front of her. The gullible expressions, those goofy gestures—on point.

Though Urvashi has been saddled with mother roles of late, the little nuances she adds to a stereotypical mother are what she brings to the table each time. Of course, there are times she overuses her strengths (and it can be due to the writing as well), often turning it repetitive, but most times, she gets it to the T.