An intense Vijay Sethupathi returns with a gritty revenge drama in 'Maharaja' | Movie Review

'Maharaja' posters. Photo: Instagram/Vijay Sethupathi

Following the critical acclaim of his last film, 'Merry Christmas', directed by Sriram Raghavan, Vijay Sethupathi returns with 'Maharaja', his 50th movie. Tamil cinema has recently focused on social issues, and 'Maharaja', a slow-burning revenge drama, is no exception. This movie is a fitting milestone for Sethupathi’s 50th film, in which he delivers a subtle yet powerful performance.
The story follows Maharaja (played by Sethupathi), a man in his late forties, who lives with his daughter Jothi (Sachana Nemidas). One day, Maharaja goes to the police to file a missing report for 'Lakshmi', which turns out to be a dustbin. The story takes place in a darker, more subdued version of Chennai, as reflected in the set design and cinematography, preparing the audience for a gritty and violent experience. The background score boosts the impact.

In the first half, viewers might find themselves puzzled as multiple parallel stories unfold alongside the main plot, but the connections become clearer in the second half of the movie. The first half focuses on establishing the story and characters, which initially, might seem a bit confusing. Director Nithilan Swaminathan takes his time to build a world that helps us understand and become curious about Maharaja, his daughter, and why 'Lakshmi' is so important to him. Later in the first half, we are introduced to the main antagonist, played by Bollywood ace director Anurag Kashyap. The dubbing for the character appears to be problematic, with a clear mismatch between the dialogue delivery and mouth movements, which has surely lessened the impact of the character.

The other villains in the movie are not well-defined, which makes it difficult for the audience to understand them fully. Among them, Anurag's character stands out as a formidable force, particularly in his confrontations with the intense Vijay Sethupathi. Many characters, such as Mamta Mohandas's and Abhirami's, are also underdeveloped and have little to contribute to the plot.
Vijay Sethupathi truly leads the movie, playing a character unlike any we've seen from him before. One aspect he needed to nail in this role is Maharaja's grounded nature- he's a man of few words yet deeply emotional and physically powerful. There's something intriguing about Maharaja's behaviour, and Sethupathi nails it with his performance.

The movie contains intense violence, with numerous gruesome and violent scenes depicted without downplaying their impact. At times, it becomes uncomfortably graphic to watch. In this aspect, it aligns with Tamil films like 'Jailer', which resorts to graphic violence, without any consequences. Presenting graphic scenes as they are could be a tactic by the filmmaker to immerse the audience in the protagonist's perspective, prompting the viewers to understand the rationale behind the events shown in the movie. However, the portrayal of violence in the movie becomes somewhat repetitive, following the typical narrative where the villainous nature of antagonists relies heavily on their vile acts or violence against women.

Another issue lies in the writing; at a certain point in the movie, things become a bit too predictable, especially the climax. If viewers start connecting the dots too early, it's easy to anticipate what will happen. However, despite this, the climax still holds some impact, although not as great as expected.
While the movie is engaging, it evolves at a slow pace, requiring a bit of patience. Its non-linear storyline demands attention to detail to connect the dots. 'Maharaja' is undoubtedly a thrilling revenge drama that deserves to be watched in theatres.

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