Maamannan Poster


Mari Selvaraj’s voice of social justice gets yet another powerful amplifier through this third film of his, inspite of running out of steam in its latter half. He’s so good at organic escalation of a cry – stemming from sadness or anger. There’s an undercurrent of opposition constantly brewing in his characters and subsequently, the scenes. Even the scenes where he introduces his characters and their respective worlds, feels like a buildup to something, generating a sense of momentum even when there isn’t necessarily any. The much-hyped interval block, makes a solid spiritual sequel to the one in Karnan, where a character is pushed to a boiling point and given an overt outburst to fully justified anger. The editing, the score, and the staging of these scenes come with an emphatic force in both these instances. In Maamannan’s interval block though, there’s a slight subversion to the steadily-escalating stakes, by containing the retaliation of the antagonising force, making the buildup towards its eventuality all the more heavier.

The extra-mile that Mari takes for designing his projects to maximise the reach of his message, is what makes his films an experience beyond their ideas. It is felt right from the creative marketing choices to the foresight of using universally palatable music. The heftiest move for that endeavour in here, has to be the inspiring casting of Vadivelu as Maamannan. He’s great at achieving the endearing, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s his calmness and poised anger that show up in plenty here, which will most likely be the most memorable aspect of this film. Though he’s been cemented as a timeless figure in pop-culture with his flair in comedy, I did end up feeling an odd sense of loss while watching the man in his most impactful of moments. Here’s an actor who clearly hasn’t been fed with scripts to realise the scope of his own range, and this thought kept nagging at me while he deftly took his character through heavy instances of realisations – of having been cheated, of being helpless, fearful, of being proud, among many others. Mari also knows well enough to trust this man to hold the frame captive with his face.

Fahadh Faasil renders the cold-blooded Rathnavelu with his predictably teeth-clenching intensity, and he adds a lot of grit to a character who might’ve been at the risk of being called a cliche. He gets an underutilised supporting character in Jyothi, his wife (a briefly evocative Raveena Ravi). There’s a moment where he reaches to her for a hug, right before he has to swallow his ego citing a political decision. I wish we saw more of this dynamic. Their equation isn’t fleshed out at all, and the absence of that exploration is clearly felt. As a counter, if the point was to depict that the women in that household are silenced, it seems overpacked for an antagonist who is already being underlined to be one in every frame he’s in. Udhayanidhi as Adhiveeran is perfunctory, but it’s the credibility of writing that gets us to root for his emotions. He plays to his capabilities, and it’s commendable on Mari’s part to have managed to extract something as neat out of him. 

While the flashback in itself is hard-hitting, and registers a heavy punch, the route used to get to it feels a tad hurried, or even lazy. The film could have started with its central backstory as a prologue (akin to how Kaatupechi’s story was placed in the narrative in Karnan), and doing that would have also made way for an alternative/better spark to the romance. The way Veera and Leela get together now is too on-the-nose, and there’s little to no attempt at generating romantic chemistry, outside of a lethargically timed (albeit pleasant) AR Rahman track. This may not be the place to look for the same, but it feels very jerky in a film that otherwise seems to know how to build organic emotions.

With the composed nature of proceedings for most parts, the film takes a heavy hit towards the end with a speedy, news-bulletin-like approach to its penultimate moments surrounding an election result. Both the highs and lows here, are brought about within the format of a news channel, abandoning the cinematic abundance that the film had been so carefully making use of until then. This bluntness is amplified when viewed after the crafty precision of all the grit that came before it. The majority of the film’s emotional arcs are realised within the first half, with the second leaning more towards plot than drama. The banger of an interval sequence, which quite literally holds the essence of this story, and Mari’s voice of self-respect, is the peak of the film, on all terms, post which it seems like the writing stops trying to build as much interest through elaborate set-pieces. The narrative begins to use convenient and familiar devices from that point onwards, like the climax fight, or the usage of social media for a clinching resolution.

It was also surprising to feel the lack of a leitmotif in the score, something that was a lot more distinct in Mari’s previous outings. Even if there’s one here, it at least isn’t as memorable as those background scores, which stood out on a single watch and are still fresh in memory. There are also more half-realised, hastily handled moments such as Veera’s almost-mythical vision of his mentor, or the youngsters questioning their own families to stand up against caste hegemony. The sense of a collective is lost when crowds appear like a placeholder in most of the scenes. Up until the run-up to the elections, the film is focused on a set of individuals and Mari seems in control, but when it becomes about the collective, the crowds, there’s no time given to humanise them and we get into generic territory.

The writing is still interesting when we isolate specific parts. The difference between how Rathnavelu views his father as opposed to Veeran. The two kinds of animals woven into the proceedings. The way oppressor castes work to control both bureaucracy and education. There’s a lot packed in here, and I’m sure there’s going to be more discourse arising out of this meaty film.

All that said, the ending, and the progressive idea that it represents, makes for gratifying imagery to sign off. From years of seeing the oppressed as collateral damage in conflict within feudal, oppressor castes, here’s someone rewriting the narrative with a graceful reply in the same medium. I’d definitely say that this film is more than the sum of its parts. It’s an important entry in a filmography that’s going to stand the test of time for ideas of social justice. The following could literally be the byline in a review for any of his three films, but this time there’s specific context – this is Maamannan standing up with dignity to the Thevar Magans of our world.


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