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Maharaja Movie Review: Vijay Sethupathi is brilliant in this karmic drama filled with convenient choices

Maharaja Movie Review: The movie isn't free of flaws, but Vijay Sethupathi stands tall in a film that packs a lot of elements

Maharaja Movie Review: Vijay Sethupathi is brilliant in this karmic drama filled with convenient choices
Maharaja poster

Last Updated: 01.51 PM, Jun 13, 2024


Maharaja Story

Vijay Sethupathi plays the titular character Maharaja, a hairdresser and father living with his teenage daughter. One day, he goes to the police station to lodge a complaint about something that has gone missing. He claims his prized possession, Lakshmi (an iron wastebin), which he is sentimental about, has been stolen by three people, putting police officials in a fix. But is that the true intention of this case or is there more to it? This is what Maharaja is all about.

Maharaja Review

Vijay Sethupathi in Maharaja
Vijay Sethupathi in Maharaja

Watching Maharaja has reminded me of filmmaker Nithilan Saminathan’s debut film, Kurangu Bommai. There are several parallels between the two, such as the fixation on a particular object that appears quotidian by nature but has more value. In fact, to be precise, it becomes a rather different entity all together than what it appears to be at face value. 

Both films feature ruthless yet economically struggling villains who can go to any extent to get what they desire. Yes, desire seems to be the word that applies to why these antagonists want to rob their victims. If Elango Kumaravel’s Sekar from Kurangu Bommai became overwhelmed by a desire for money, which made him commit heinous crimes, only to leave him in a situation that made him regret it every passing day, there is a similar wicked desire leading to karmic play in Maharaja (with a similar red herring), leaving its villains in helpless scenarios. The only thing here is that they are way too brutal and the writers settled for convenient choices.

One of the earliest posters of Maharaja read, “What goes around, comes around”. In essence, Maharaja makes this point in its two-odd-hour-long film by adopting a non-linear narrative and extreme jumps in timelines. It is so much so that the film takes the first half to set up the base and introduce the premise and characters, slowly unravelling the happenings and order of events during the climax. 

But for you to feel a catharsis of karma hitting back like a boomerang, Maharaja begins to lack cohesiveness and instead takes convenient choices, which is the biggest grouse I have with the film. Characters who appear in various timelines of the film seem to be connected with each other, besides the fact that some even appear to take actions and know the backstories only so that the film gets to end in the way it wants.

Maharaja’s first half has some black comedy with quirky one-liners, like “kuppa tottiyil kuppa kuda illa” (there is no waste in the waste bin), and a quick comic take on the Ilaiyaraaja-Rahman debate. But at the same time, there are also certain over-the-top scenes involving a thief named Police and custodial violence that may not contribute to the entirety of the film. There is also much ambiguity looming over certain characters. 

Giving an example and by no means a spoiler that Anurag Kashyap’s Selvam is the antagonist in the film, we are never told why he does what he does, including a few ruthless scenes and decisions that demonstrate his diabolic nature, given that he appears to be a loving man to his folks. But we are also shown his familial background, giving rise to questions about his nature and connections with accomplices who tend to be conveniently set within the clockwork of the film’s twists and turns. As much as we get to know of Maharaja (a superb Vijay Sethupathi) and his daily routine, we aren’t told or shown much of the antagonists and how they are connected apart from being just so happened to be there.

Vijay Sethupathi holds the fort brilliantly with a mix of his innocence and sympathy, along with his signature style of delivering a particular dialogue in a repeated fashion. But on the flip side, Asifa (Mamta Mohandas), a physical education trainer, Gopal (Bhararathiraja), a fellow barber with Maharaja, and a snake that makes special appearances do not seem to add much weigh to the film.

Maharaja is a film that feeds you information in every frame and second, so losing a grip on it might leave you unable to understand when the knots are tied. A revenge drama at its essence, the film brilliantly sets up its premise, and for a film that jumps narratives within the blink of an eye, it tends to connect the dots, but in a convoluted manner that it wants you to buy its random choices.

Maharaja Verdict

Anurag Kashyap and Vijay Sethupathi in Maharaja trailer.
Anurag Kashyap and Vijay Sethupathi in Maharaja trailer.

Maharaja is a departure of sorts from the landmark films that stars have been doing. Vijay Sethupathi is excellently convincing in his role and attempts to justify a film that is not spared by commodious and lethargic gimmicks and an excess influx of characters.

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