Every young Tamil-film hero looking to become a super star (if not the Superstar) makes a film in which he plays a cop. That’s when he announces his ambitions of entering the big leagues. Enough with all this love from the urban pockets. I now want B- and C-centre adoration. Maari is Balaji Mohan’s announcement that directors can do this too. He wants to show the industry that he isn’t just the sweet guy who made Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi and Vaayai Moodi Pesavum. He wants to show he has chest hair. No more long, lyrical titles, please. Maari: one word, rhymes with massy. It’s the kind of film that would be fifteen minutes shorter if they removed all scenes with slo-mo strutting by Maari (Dhanush) – but if they did that, how would the excited boys seated ahead of me have gotten the opportunity to stand up every few minutes and bring the house down? Maari is Balaji Mohan’s stab at the uniquely Indian genre meant for Whistling Thronging Fans. It’s a WTF movie.
Which isn’t to say it’s a terrible movie. The director shows that he can stage a mass moment with the best of them. One of these moments involves a table and Maari’s propped-up feet. That’s it – he doesn’t utter a word. This setup is repeated a little later, this time with firecrackers. Again, no words. But Maari can’t be silent all the time, especially if he’s got to keep repeating the mantra that’s such a part of the mass-hero persona. It’s a good one: senjiruven, I’ll do you in. Maari’s fingers scissor through the air and land inches away from the opponent’s throat. It’s a mark of Dhanush’s capabilities that we don’t laugh when these heroics come from a man who could hide behind Kajal Aggarwal’s arm. The part is by no means a stretch – all it needs is star power. But Dhanush acts his heart out, as though he believed he were the first ever actor to play a small-time rowdy with a heart as golden as the fat chains around his neck. At times, he makes us believe too.
Kajal Aggarwal is Sridevi. She wants to set up a boutique in Maari’s lower-middle-class neighbourhood, but he is a nuisance. He wants a cut. They’re opposites, and you think it’s just a matter of time before they’re attracted to each other. In fact, I thought this would happen the first time they met. He sees her and the world sort of goes silent, the way it does in the movies when people fall in love. A few scenes later, he tells her, “I love you.” But this angle comes with a surprisingly sharp edge. We think, for a while, that Sridevi is your garden-variety loosu ponnu, and then we see that she isn’t. Balaji Mohan seems to be saying that he isn’t selling out – at least not completely. He knows these are clichés, and he knows we know these are clichés – and he’s trying to present them in a new light. There’s another nice scene between Maari and a distraught little girl. You roll your eyes and think it’s the usual “sentiment” scene, but the way it ends made me smile.
The problem is that there isn’t enough of this. Save for the bits with Robo Shankar (he’s a riot as Maari’s sidekick), the writing is shockingly ordinary – lots of tell, very little show. A long voiceover at the beginning of the first half sets up the protagonist; another long voiceover at the beginning of the second half sets up the antagonist. Does making a mass movie mean that you forget to make an interesting one? The film keeps adding subplots – about pigeon racing, about red sandalwood smuggling, about Maari turning auto driver (or maybe this is really Dhanush turning into Rajinikanth) – but these developments come and go. They don’t particularly add to the movie, which seems to have been thought of in terms of a few mass moments and very little else. The casting, too, is off. Was Vijay Yesudas really the best you could find for such an important role? He looks like a man trying to pull himself out of quicksand using his shoelaces.
Would we complain so much had the director been different? Maybe not. But then, Maari shows hints of being a different kind of mass-masala movie, and it’s frustrating when we keep getting long, dull stretches of sameness. So, yes, you’re giving your leading man John Lennon glasses and machete sideburns – but what use is it when little else about him is new? Yes, you’re sprucing up action scenes with Steadicam shots and 360-degree camera swirls – but what use is it when there’s so little innovation in the stunts themselves, and when the villains are so unmemorable? Yes, Anirudh peps things up for a few minutes with the ultra-catchy Don-u don-u – but why are the other numbers so forgettable? But there may be at least one other reason this composer was chosen. He makes an appearance in a song sequence and makes Dhanush look like Schwarzenegger in comparison. As I said, it’s a WTF movie.
- loosu ponnu = the heroine in every other Tamil film; she looks like she’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic
An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2015 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.