Ajay Bhupathi's second directorial doesn't effectively use the potential of its famed line-up and engaging premise
Vijay (Siddharth) and Arjun (Sharwanand) are inseparable friends since childhood. Vijay is in a relationship with a dance teacher Maha (Aditi Rao Hydari) and hopes to marry her once he accomplishes his aim - to become a police officer. Arjun, though a wayward youngster, is happy, living a content life with his mother. Sparks fly when Arjun meets a law student Smitha and there's love in the air. Arjun looks up to Chunchu (Jagapathi Babu), a father-like figure, who makes a living out of his illegitimate drug deals by the sea. Their lives take a dramatic turn after Vijay has an episode with Vizag's big-time don Dhanunjay (Garuda Ram).
After a rustic action-romance like RX100, director Ajay Bhupathi chooses a grand, darker canvas with Maha Samudram, a world filled with power-hungry characters, vulnerable women, deceit and mistrust looming around the corner. Maha Samudram, the sea, serves as an inanimate backdrop, a mute witness to the high-voltage action in the lives of those surrounding it. The story revolves around two happy-go-lucky friends whose equation invariably changes due to a few people who try to mess around with their insecurities. How far does this go and is a damage-control act even possible?
What works for Maha Samudram? It's the deliciously-flawed characters, the depth in the interpersonal relationships and the fantastic, (even though) restrained performances. While Arjun is the regular protagonist with a heart of gold who has to deal with the aftermath of a messy situation, Vijay is shrewd but can be easily misled. There's more to Chunchu than his colourful, chirpy exterior. Dhanunjay is a typical beast-like figure, whom everyone is looking to topple - including his insecure elder brother Gooni Babji. You're instantly drawn to their unusual histrionics, actions.
With all the complexity and the messiness in Maha Samudram, it's only natural for a viewer to expect the film to explode in regular intervals. Yet, the roar is muted. The filmmaker makes it clear that the story is about the lust for power but Maha Samudram never goes beyond the obvious template of most gangster sagas. The film proceeds in a near-lackadaisical fashion; there's not too much to keep your eyes glued to the screens. The action sequences, the romantic episodes are too one-dimensional and uninteresting. It takes the return of Vijay to bring back some vigour and momentum into the proceedings.
It's disappointing that Maha Samudram has a typical patriarchal setting where the women always need to be rescued by the men with a male-saviour syndrome. It's tiring to see Aditi Rao Hydari being cast as a victim in some form in her every second film. After all, why does her character need to tolerate the hate she receives from her father on a daily basis? The episodes where Anu Emmanuel gets involved in one accident after the other reminds you of Anushka's character in Khaleja. Her character Smitha has little impact or purpose in the story. Sharanya Ponvannan is lively in her brief role.
There's a fine-little twist in the pre-climax that adds some zip to the narrative. Chaitan Bharadwaj's music, both in terms of the songs and background score, too is a value addition to Maha Samudram. The wacky tribute to Rambha in the Hey Rambha number is foot-tapping and a visual feast, while Hey Thikamakale is one of the more hummable tracks in the film. Raj Thota's cinematography takes you through the underbelly of Visakhapatnam and the technician's eye for intricate details lend character and liveliness to the frames.
If you need a reason to watch Maha Samudram, it should be for the performances of Siddharth and Rao Ramesh. It's refreshing to see Telugu filmmakers look at Siddharth beyond his lover boy image and cast him in a grey, flawed role (that the actor relishes like a fulfilling plate of Thali). Rao Ramesh essays the part of a modern-day Shakuni, to which he brings in a lot of nuance and depth. Sharwanand is wonderful in a restrained act but he certainly deserved a better script. Jagapathi Babu sleepwalks through a colourful character set in familiar terrain.
Maha Samudram is a largely watchable gangster saga with a few silver linings. Yet it's disappointing that Ajay Bhupathi does so little with such wonderful talents in the lineup. The writing lacks sparkle and consistency though Sharwanand, Siddharth and Rao Ramesh are terrific in their parts. Chaitan Bharadwaj's music provides some solace.