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Maamannan Is A Stale Political Thriller With A Bleeding Heart Saved By Fahadh’s Performance



Maamannan(streaming on Netflix)

Rating: ** ½

Mari Selvaraj’s  Maamannan, yet another  South Indian film on a caste feud, is  an extremely violent film, and it is not the stylized violence of  Quentin Tarantino or Anurag Kashyap. This is gut-level slaughterhouse  violence, raw and direct.And deeply unaesthetic for  its lack of vision and restrain.

Early in the film the incontrovertibly brilliant Fahadh Faasil, arguably the best contemporary  actor  in  Indian cinema today, bludgeons  one  of his many pet dogs to death after the whimpering  canine loses a dog race.  Elsewhere, Faasil lets loose  a pack of murderous barking dogs on a herd of pet pigs. The dogs for the upperclass  villain and the pigs for the underprivileged are a distasteful  alliance. The narrative keeps moving restlessly back and forth between the two.

All this  could have made a much deeper  impact by suggestion. None of that  silly sophisticated  subtlety for Mari Selvraj. If cinema is alcohol, this film is hooch.

Maamannan is  a very angry film. In the absence of a controlled temper template  the  film resembles a  series of sloppily shot  scenes  of street violence where niceties are  resolutely done away with  for the sake of realism and eyeballs.

Cinema, Selvraj should know, by its  very nature is  a scoured medium. It works best when the  camera  doesn’t cry hysterically. Maamannan’s tears of anger soak and dampen even the potentially sublime moments of  caste  drama. In a black-and-white flashback we see a bunch of young boys  swimming and playing  in a  pond , being stoned  to death by uppercaste  goons(or  goons of uppercaste despots,it isn’t clear which).

A potentially stunning  sequence here looks like  a video of violence shot by a  passerby.

This is a film that aspires to make  a strong statement on social inequality  but ends up biting more that it can chew. The  film’s lead actor Udhayanidhi Stalin(who is  also the producer)  playing an underprivileged reformist  proves the weakest link in the plot. He is meant to uplift the  downtrodden.  But he ends up pulling down the film’s lofty aspirations.

Vadivelu who plays Stalin’s ideologically challenged  politician-father gets it right. He  is both a victim and an aggressor in a society that  empowers the  powerful. Vadivelu’s  title role  of  Maamannan(meaning emperor) is  the  actual hero of the plot.

There is a recurrent reference  to the underprivileged  not being allowed to sit along  with the  uppercaste folks.This sort of  soul-searching in  a morass of brutality doesn’t really work , given the deafening tone of the film’s narrative ire.

What works is Fahadh Faasil as the unrepentant tyrant. He is chilling each time he creeps up on the plot. Strangely Keerthy Suresh plays a woman seeking empowerment. But the script strips her of all power by making her hang around  like  the hero’s favourite sidekick.


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