Covid-19 has given a break to theatre-going experience across the globe. Even though Indian cinema halls have opened up slowly from October 2020 onwards, there has been no tentpole release which has revived the fortunes of cinema halls so far. December saw the release of Telugu film Solo Brathuke So Better which indicated that the audience in Southern India is willing to watch movies in the theatre. With this being the Pongal/Sankranti week in India, we have two films in Tamizh and three in Telugu (plus Master’s dubbed version) hitting marquee in a span of less than a week. If we go by the initial response, it is sure that cinemas are here to stay and co-exist with OTT.
Last year if Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo was the flavour during Sankaranti, then this year the honour goes to Master. Unlike Tenet which closed down theatres the hope is that Master will revive southern India’s theatre business and to an extent even the Northern parts of India. While Bollywood has taken a cautious approach, the biggies have not released their films in theatres so far, their southern counterparts have taken the risk and released their films in theatre. Whether this is a wise move or not we is something that we will have to wait and watch. The initial response suggests that the audiences are willing to come back to the cinemas. Festive cinema has a different flavour in southern India, it is part of a ritual to go out and watch movies with friends and family. Master which was originally supposed to release last summer and postponed due to the pandemic has finally hit the theatres.
Vijay has been experimenting or trying to push his comfort zone of late. This does not mean that he hits the bullseye every time. Thuppaki did that job well, but there have even been misfires like Mersal where I was not satisfied with the outcome. Now coming to Master, what makes it special is that it is directed by Lokesh Kangaraj, whose filmography is better than A R Murgadoss and Atlee.
Vijay wants to be the next Rajinikanth, looking at recent box office figures it is clear that he is on par with him now. Rajinikanth did a Sivaji ( a film about NRI who wants to reform Indian system) which Vijay did a decade later in Sarkar. Now we have something like Petta here.
At almost 3 hours, the film is a tedious watch and could easily have been trimmed. I don’t understand why we have the obsession of delivering close to 180 minute long films even today just because there’s a huge star attached. The film begins with the rising of Bhavani (Vijay Sethupathi) and his transformation from a victim to the man who wants to rule the world. The prologue is the best thing in terms of writing for this film. I would not mind a full-length feature film featuring Bhavani.
We have JD (Vijay) an alcoholic professor who is loved by students but disliked by the management. Why is he an alcoholic, the reason is that he cannot cope up with the death of his mentor, but we never know the timeline for this. Surprisingly, no one knows this (except for the college chairman) and we have a whole comedy track dedicated to this. This is strange considering that he is working in the same college where he was once a student and yet none of his colleagues know his backstory. Secondly, we know he is alcoholic, but when it comes to work he is shown to be someone who is one of the best teachers in the college, a highly functioning alcoholic.
The moment he enters the correctional facility we see that he is not interested in work at all, which is not the case with him in college. Strangely for a person who is supposed to have studied psychology and teaches personality development he is naive when he sees these kids and does not realize any of them is a drug addict or facing duress.
For a man who preaches non-violence and detests the use of violence, we never see him taking the help of law to solve his problems and the transformation of this professor into a killer eventually does not make sense.
Charu (Malavika Mohanan) is a new professor who joins the college and is the dumbest and selfish person who ever existed in the Tamil movie universe. She forges the signature of JD, I do not know why this is not even highlighted in the film and she thinks JD will be a saviour without even informing why she wants him to go the correctional facility. Rest of the characters are underwritten and we do not know why they exist in the film.
Some of the tropes which we see in the film have been seen in previous Vijay’s films. Hero’s friends being targetted by the villain is lifted straight from Thuppaki. Here it doesn’t make an impact as we are not engaged with other characters.
Secondly, there is an interesting scene where a child saves the heroine in danger and Vijay cannot do anything. This is almost similar to the scene of Trivikram’s Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava.
What comes as a fresh approach is that after a long time we see a hero who is a failure, who is unable to cope up with grief and is not one step ahead of the villain. I wish he explored this aspect a bit more but it seems like a hurried work. We get to see a cat as a pet, but then after a few scenes, it is never to be seen.
We get an entire stretch of 20-30 minutes which has an introductory song and action sequence, but in totality, it does not add to the film. Not that I did not enjoy the dance sequence and brilliantly staged action set-pieces but by the time the movie reaches the climax you wonder if those scenes were needed at all.
Female characters in the film are non-existent. The main female lead in other masala films at least have 5 songs, here that also does not happen. Andrea’s character is shown as someone skilled at archery, yet it is Vijay who saves her and does the major weightlifting. We have a female character who stands up for election yet has to take hero’s permission to lead.
The film works in parts and it makes for a breezy watch but much of the impact is lost due to the length. Another major grouse is the weak screenplay; it is as if Lokesh wrote the character of Bhavani with relish and then he got bored. We see flashes of brilliance when JD barges into the den of Bhavani and the scene is a good example of what Lokesh could have done. The true star of the film is Vijay Sethupathi he absolutes relishes the role and we actually root for him than the hero.
While this is a film which tries to look at complexities of crime and criminals and remains unlike vigilante Tamil films where the only solution is to kill the criminals without facing the procedures of law, in the end the movie takes a shortcut and offers violence as a solution. If only this something else could have been tried instead of an usual ending, this could have been a great film.
To sum it up, this is Vijay’s best and Lokesh’s weakest film so far.
P.S. Maintain social distancing and keep the mask on while watching the movie.
Be safe and happy watching at the cinemas. Have a fantastic Pongal and Sankranti.