Lokesh Kanagaraj sets his entire film up again, just like his previous, in the very first fifteen minutes. He draws the villain, the setting and even the very exact location of the mission for the hero. This is a superb stretch, one that sets the stage up and rightfully elevates it for the entry of a star. But that’s where the wide grin on my face started waning. I honestly blame my expectations too, for wanting the star to also have similar reasoning behind his brawn and brains. The care gone into creating a Bhavani is felt, even though it is mostly just Vijay Sethupathi being himself. The same cannot be said for JD, at least going by the end result, and this has always been the one make-or-break factor for me, that the “mass” for the hero be organic too. Just like in Kaithi.

There’s an introduction song that barely has lyrics, forget lines that serve a star, and this is one of Lokesh’s small wins. I get how he is trying to balance the glorification between the character and the star, but the latter is really overpowering in this case. This leads to the initial staging feeling corny and out-of-character for the director himself. Compromises, I guess. Self-imposed or not, we’ll need to see more of his films to know.

But what I truly didn’t like about Master is the endless wait for the JD to kick-in for Vijay. Vijay is good, energetic as always, but it feels like this director-star pairing haven’t entirely delivered on the promised conceit (of the star playing someone other than his own persona) even with the character having so much scope. The film does come close though, I can’t think of any Vijay film in the past where his character had human flaws. But the problem here is, that these flaws are spelt out a bit too late. Even the alcoholism feels like a glorified quirk more than a flaw until JD’s moment of truth. The fact that he can’t cry, him acknowledging his own problem, comes merely moments before his transformation. So up to that point, it still is Vijay on-screen. JD the character lasts that small stretch alone. But sure, the Vijay we then see in this film isn’t the same as what he’s been doing so far. He isn’t responsible for winning every single action set-piece in the film. The fist fights are as grounded as one can get from a superstar’s mass film. Even the Kabaddi tribute fits so well into the film, it feels earned.

The dialogues have spunk, even without elaborate punchlines. The comedic bit, though embarrassingly overdone, has underlying pathos – JD cooks up stories of his love life in order to run away from his past. A character close to JD is disposed off for his low-point, but the death is used as an example for further messaging. These stretches of messaging aren’t preachy, because it isn’t Vijay talking to the press, but a recently-redeemed master schooling his kids. They feel genuine enough, but aren’t as awe-inspiring as they should be. All of these are elements that I wish had been more than just “coming close” to Lokesh’s vision. Had they met that threshold, this would’ve been the cracker of an entertainer we need. I hope this is only a start, and not a place where he gets comfortable as a big-ticket filmmaker.


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