Sooraj Barjatya is one of the most successful commercial directors of the 90’s. He made Salman Khan into an overnight star with Maine Pyar Kiya. For a long time Salman’s off screen persona was synonymous with his onscreen image of Prem, thanks to the way the director presented him in multiple films. Often times the director repeated himself with simplistic plots. It was mostly set around large families and half way through an unfortunate incident happened resulting in a deep divide. Inevitably the protagonist would set things right with his basic goodness. Even his last film Prem Rathan Dhan Payo ticked all the boxes of 90’s family dramas; the only difference being that PPDP was set in a princely state where monarchy still exists.
However with Uunchai the director attempts something different, and for most part manages to pull it off. Barjatya not only takes a few elements from Farhan and Zoya Akhtar’s mode of storytelling but also takes inspiration from Nag Ashwin’s directorial debut ‘Yevade Subramanyam’. The inspiration can be clearly seen in the mountain scenes in the second half.
The film opens with a group of three friends- Amit Srivastava (Amitabh Bachchan), Om (Anupam Kher) and Javed (Boman Irani). There is also Mala (Sarika). These four are on a trek to reach the EBC (Everest base camp). The tour guide is Shraddha Gupta (A grumpy Parineeti Chopra). From there we move to a flashback from two months ago. This flashback involves the trio’s close friend Bhupen (A delightful Danny Denzonpa). It is refreshing to see Danny in this small but important part. His presence is felt throughout the film. Bhupen’s biggest desire is to go on a trek to the base camp of Everest with his three friends. However the friends are reluctant and they don’t take it too seriously. But things take a turn for bad after the birthday of Bhupen. The next morning he dies of cardiac arrest, this in spite of Bhupen being the fittest among the four. Amit decides to fulfill Bhupen’s last wish.
Both Om and Javed feel that Amit is being mad. But Amit manages to convince them about the importance of fulfilling their friend’s wish. However it is a trek that comes with many hurdles, the chief one being the age bracket that this trio comes under. Also Javed’s wife Shabina (Neena Gupta) is a controlling woman who doesn’t let him go outside the city and Mount Everest is a far off thing.
The rest of the story is about whether the trio is able to fulfill the last wish of their friend or not. Along the way the film also gives some important life lessons. These include how parents aren’t always in the right and children are not always in the wrong. How marriage partners sometimes need a certain distance, and lastly how love often can succumb to worldly comforts. The last one is brought out through the character of Mala. She has an important connection to Bhupen.
For any friendship film to work, the most essential aspect is that no character should end up overshadowing the others. A major reason why a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara or a Dil Chahta Hai works is due to the way the characters were written. As an audience you root for all the three protagonists.
Here too Sooraj Barjatya gives equal space to all of them and makes you empathize with all. All the three have their own inner battles and the director does a splendid job in portraying them. Uunchai also dwells into the importance of solitude and successfully showcases how certain battles are best fought alone.
The individual back stories have also been smartly used by Sooraj Barjatya. They come in when you least expect it. Case in point being how Mala is connected to Bhupen, or even Amit’s past with a woman called Abhilasha (Nafisa Ali in a graceful special appearance). These stories add to the impact of the film.
The dialogues written by Abhishek Dixit are mostly heartwarming, both in the situations involving the friends and also the husband and wife scenes between Boman Irani and Neena Gupta.
The cinematography by Manoj Kumar Khatoi is simply splendid. He deserves distinction marks for how he captures the mountains through his lens. The trekking scenes of Amit, Om and Javed give us lot of thrills. This thrill is further enhanced by the cinematographer.
The action and stunts by Sham Kaushal are filled with the right amount of tension. For example there is a scene in the second half where all of them have to cross a bridge with the weather at its worst. The audiences get the feeling that something tragic will happen to Amit in particular. However no damage happens and the weather does settle down.
Music by Amit Trivedi is also good. My favorite is the Keti Ko song which leaves you with a smile on your face.
Coming to the flaws the length of the film could have been easily trimmed down. The first half feels indulgent at certain places. The trek could have begun much earlier rather than leaving it to the second half.
Another issue with the film is the way the character of Parineeti has been written and performed. She spends most of her time either being exasperated or being angry with the senior citizens. There is an attempt at humanizing her but it comes across as rather labored.
Uunchai boasts of fantastic veteran actors and none of the seniors disappoint. Amitabh Bachchan is marvellous as Amit Srivastava. He captures all the nuances without missing a single beat. Amitabh’s brilliance can be particularly seen at a crucial juncture in the second half; in this important scene his character is revealed to have Alzheimers. Om and Javed scold Amit for hiding his condition and decide to go back. This is followed by Amit’s long dialogue where he talks about the purpose of this trip and how he is not backing down now. Amitabh Bachchan does a swell job in bringing out the emotions of Amit.
Anupam Kher has been on a roll this year with a knockout performance in Kashmir Files. The actor also made a huge impression with his small role in the Telugu film Karthikeya 2. With Uunchai Anupam continues his golden form. He excels in both the lighter and emotional bits. It is a delight to see Anupam getting one meaty role after another. Boman Irani compliments Amitabh and Anupam wonderfully. He conveys a lot with his body language. Sarika and Neena Gupta are also very good. They leave a solid impression in their respective parts.
Final word: Uunchai is rich in both visuals and also emotions. A tighter edit would have made it even better. But still this is a delightful trek with the smashing veterans leading it.
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