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U Turn (2016) Review: Promising Build-up Yields Lackluster Payoff

U Turn (2016) Review: Promising Build-up Yields Lackluster Payoff

U-Turn review

Whodunit mysteries can be tricky; the reveal to the big build up may not always satisfy viewer expectations. This is the case with Kannada filmmaker Pawan Kumar’s second film. Although he initially crafts a compelling, intriguing narrative, the uninteresting, simplistic twists ultimately undermine the film. U-Turn is still worth watching for its intelligent writing and direction in the first half, despite the unconvincing climax.

Building on the reputation established by his crowd-funded indie debut, Lucia, which was widely acclaimed for its success both critically and commercially, Kumar entered an industry (Sandalwood) notorious for its unremarkable remakes of masala films. Yet, even those not captivated by Lucia can appreciate that Kumar’s filmmaking is driven by a passion for meaningful cinema, a stark contrast to the norm in Sandalwood.

This passion is evident in Kumar’s keen understanding of the distinct roles of a writer and a director, a nuance many Indian filmmakers seem to overlook. He skillfully navigates these distinctions with flair, as clearly evident in the opening scenes of U-Turn.

The film begins with an effective character-building scene featuring a tomboyish journalist, Rachana (played by Shraddha Srinath), who is interning at the New Indian Express in Bangalore. We see her in an auto rickshaw with her mother, who’s returning to her hometown. Through their simple yet revealing conversation, Rachana’s character traits are subtly and well established.

In the opening credits, an inverted shot of a flyover road forms the shape of the letter ‘U’, hinting at the film’s title. The letter ‘U’ consistently appears as a visual motif throughout the film, from the graphic display of the title to a simple WhatsApp message at the end.

The main setting of the film is the Double Road flyover in Bengaluru, where each day, several motorists shift the stone blocks partitioning the road to make a U-turn. The indifferent commuters barely ever care to move the blocks back to their original position after taking the U-turn, setting the stage for potentially fatal accidents.

Rachana, with the help of a homeless man, decides to pursue a story about traffic safety. She diligently records the license numbers of vehicles that violate traffic rules. After compiling a list over a month, she chooses to visit one of the offenders. But, her investigation takes an unexpected turn when she finds herself implicated as a suspect in a purported murder.

As more mysterious deaths occur, Rachana finds herself inexplicably linked to these incidents. The story centers on how she navigates out of this situation with the help of a young, astute police officer Nayak (played by Roger Narayan).

Writer/director Pawan Kumar demonstrates his flair for crafting engaging narratives, particularly in the film’s tense first half. The tension is so palpable that it raises expectations for a more satisfying resolution than the disjointed one ultimately delivered. The twists require a significant suspension of disbelief, and the term ‘underwhelming’ barely captures the disappointment felt at the climax.

The horror elements in U-Turn reminded me of Mysskin’s ghost story, Pisasu, while also incorporating a straightforward lesson on road safety. However, the level of mastery that characterized Mysskin’s film eluded U-Turn. Kumar attempts to shift the film into a horror gear in the second half, but that fails to evoke the intended sense of dread.

For instance, the prison fight scene in U-Turn falls flat. The film misses the aesthetic consistency found in Lucia. Although Pisasu stretched the ‘whodunit’ element, the answer is wonderfully revealed, fostering an emotional connection with the audience. U-Turn includes a backstory intended to evoke emotions, yet its execution fails to engage us with the characters. The twists aren’t unrealistic, they just don’t deliver the anticipated impact.

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The script skilfully intertwines themes of retribution and justice, riddled with sensible characters. In a typical genre film, Rachana’s character might have been portrayed as a ‘damsel in distress,’ overshadowed by the narrative’s two male figures: a sub-inspector and a crime reporter. Here, both men are depicted as equally terrified and helpless as Rachana. In a refreshing shift, the female protagonist faces the trouble without relying on the intervention of a concerned ‘love interest.’

In fact, the investigative prowess of the male characters pales in comparison to Rachana’s relentless curiosity. Shraddha Srinath (debut) and Roger Narayan’s performances are the film’s biggest strength, although the other actors seem stagey.

U-Turn (121 minutes) might not be the quintessential edge-of-your-seat thriller, but is still worth a watch. Pawan Kumar builds up an intricate puzzle only to take refuge in lackluster twists.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Rating: 3/5

View Comments (4)
  • After reading the article I am interested to see the movie. The plot of this movie is very interesting. Thank you for sharing the true story of the movie.

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