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Maharaj Review - Junaid Khan’s debut YRF film finds a savior in Sharvari who elevates this rather SLB coded period drama

Even with no interval, Maharaj is divided into two halves and you are expected to sit through an odd first to get a somewhat rewarding second half. 

Maharaj Review - Junaid Khan’s debut YRF film finds a savior in Sharvari who elevates this rather SLB coded period drama

Maharaj Review

Last Updated: 06.36 PM, Jun 21, 2024


Maharaj Review: Plot - based on the life of celebrated journalist and reformer Karsandas Mulji, who spoke against societal taboos and once went against the Maharajs of the (then) Bombay Hawelis (temples) for exploiting the devotees in the name of devotion and running the business of fear under the disguise of religion. Junaid Khan plays Mulji, Jaideep Ahlawat plays Maharaj, Shalini Pandey plays Kishori, and Sharvari plays Viraj. 

Maharaj Review: Analysis:

Such are the times when a film that goes against the malpractices of people in power is at risk of being attacked by extremists, accusing it of putting an entire religion in a bad light. Maharaj is a movie that was released on Netflix without a trailer, songs, or any kind of promotional material. Interviews have been thrown out of the window first thing. Why? Because it dares to talk about a real-life incident where the men in power of the temples exploited it and engaged in sexual misconduct with the female devotees. 

Go on the internet and read a bit about the Maharaj Libel Case Of 1862. Even you will be shocked to know the extent of blind faith the country was plagued with, and it took a man to help them take their blindfolds off. But does Maharaj, the film, do justice to the plot that it picks? Let's dissect.

Maharaj Still
Maharaj Still

Written by Vipul Mehta and Sneha Desai, with Bernard Williams, and directed by Siddharth P. Malhotra (not the actor, of course), Maharaj takes creative liberties when it compresses the many accused Maharajs into one representative, Yadunath Maharaj, played by Jaideep Ahlawat, who is awful from the first frame, and Ahlawat somehow pulls it off well. So when we talk of creative liberties, this is not the complete truth and must be followed by a good read on trusted internet pages to get a better idea. Maharaj opens to a very familiar world. It somewhere aspires to be a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film with its music, costumes, and sets. But that doesn't land well for it, as the magic of the Bhansali world comes from the unpolished edges, and Maharaj is too polished to look real. 

So we enter a story about a boy who has a fiancée, and now she is being exploited by a godman. The boy has seen them together in bed. The boy now disowns his fiancée, who a few scenes later finds out that she was being cheated on by the godman she worshipped all her life. What follows is her way of finding redemption. Maharaj doesn't even act like a film that wants the audience to enter its world in the first half. Everything runs on steroids and it feels like someone is ticking off the scenes on a checklist before we reach the second half, where another actor is about to enter and make the film a better watch. That is how Maharaj moves for most of its first half, where there is an instant change of heart, everything just lands up in the right place at the right time, and it looks staged.

It is in the second half that the writing and direction find a track where they know how to now have enough drama, humour, dialogue baazi, and spotlight on the main characters as they deserve it. A whole lot of credit for taking the movie to a well-placed crescendo goes to Sharvari, who makes a cameo and elevates the entire film. She becomes the fuel for the flickering lamp that sheds light in some parts and fights for existence in others. Beyond this, Maharaj becomes a watchable affair as it now shows a fight between two parties that technically represent ideologies. This is where the movie hits the right chord because it is now focusing on many layered things rather than just blindly running in many directions.

But no one can really hide the technical and preparation loopholes. We are never told where these Hawelis are exactly in Bombay, why people are randomly dropping their accents and speaking polished Hindi when a tense scene enters, why we are still not clear what Urdu words are in our daily Hindi diction that are part of the modern-day vocabulary and not of 1862, who is funding Karsandas Mulji’s life, how he is running a press with no source of income, and why a live story is so randomly thrown at us with no scope for it to grow on us.

Maharaj Still
Maharaj Still

As for performances, Junaid Khan makes a decent debut where he gets to have the spotlight, but there are also times when you feel like he is not completely ready. He still sings dialogues when he is expected to give monologues, a very stage technique, but whether it works for the celluloid is questionable. Shalini Pandey gets to play another character who ends up being a motivator in the YRF universe. Jaideep Ahlawat makes you hate him, and I guess that's a compliment for him as he plays the bad man. But he also becomes one tone after another because there is nothing more to him than being a predator.

Sharvari owns the film once she is on screen, and there is so much vibrance in her screen presence. The actor is now ready for bigger challenges. The direction is quite imbalanced but also interesting in some parts. Production design by Subrata Chakraborty is very Bhansali-inspired, and you can see it.

Also, are we not going to talk about the uncanny resemblance Maharaj has to Nani and Sai Pallavi's starrer, Shyam Singha Roy?

Maharaj Review: The Final Verdict

Maharaj is a mixed bag that blooms very late, and not everyone has an attention span that will make them sit for that long. There is a long way to go for Junaid, and this certainly is not the best step for now.

Maharaj Still
Maharaj Still

Maharaj is now streaming on Netflix as of June 21, 2024. Stay tuned to OTTplay for more information on this and everything else in the world of streaming and films.

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