Not every Friday do you get the satisfaction of stepping out of a through-and-through entertainer that, a) leaves you with nuggets of afterthoughts after engaging you for more than two hours, b) attempts a political-superhero film that is rooted in its milieu, and c) does all of this while underplaying or subverting the conventional tropes while also appeasing the commercial cinema audience. Maaveeran ticks all these boxes.
Director: Madonne Ashwin
Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Yogi Babu, Mysskin, Sunil, Saritha, Adithi Shankar, and more
Runtime: 166 minutes
Storyline: A comic book artist is forced to take on a corrupt politician when a voice he hears in his mind foretells events and puts him in precarious situations
In recent times, Sivakarthikeyan has cultivated a genuine knack to appear utterly likeable even in an imperfect story (as was evident in a few of his previous films), and he can ebb and flow through the tides to add something more. In Maaveeran, Madonne Ashwin gives Siva the centre court and plays to his strength, but takes complete control of the star; Siva becomes a complete director’s tool. Both the puppeteer and the puppet are in sync, with the actor still managing to bring his own personality to his role and Ashwin still making it a director’s film.
The screenwriting is brilliant. There is a lot to unpack, retrospectively, even in the opening stretch of the film where we see Sathya (Sivakarthikeyan), a comic-book artist, sketch a tale about a courageous hero saving a damsel in distress, only to sell it to a crooked newspaper cartoonist who adds his own name to the same.
Sathya hails from an impoverished background and he believes in turning a blind eye to all injustice even if the system abuses him. He’s only concerned if something affects his mother (Saritha) or sister (Monisha Blessy), something that cannot be “adjustable,” and that’s exactly what happens when the government relocate their entire slum to a poorly-built 10-storey apartment built by minister Jeyakodi MN (a play on ‘Yeman’, the Hindu God of Death). Unlike houses in the slum, this vertical giant, named Makkal Maligai, becomes a single organism supported on one structure, a common denominator for all its residents.
Things escalate, Sathya is pushed to the edge, and he suffers a setback, only to hear a voice (Vijay Sethupathi, in a film with many similarities to his Tughlaq Durbar) that plays out the ‘Maveeran’ story (the comic he drew earlier) through Sathya; the voice foretells events by seconds, and in situations, it also tells him how to feel, like an auditory mirror to his consciousness.
Sathya battles with being the hero he has to become and this extremely reluctant superhero’s reason for hesitance is fascinatingly rooted in what lies at the heart of this story. He is his own kryptonite, and like most superheroes, it’s an issue affecting his loved ones that makes him take the leap of faith and bat for the greater good.
A power like precognition lends obvious ideas for action sequences, but how Ashwin stages these segments are fantastic. Every scene builds something organically, puts a clever twist to the ordinary, has a journey on its own, and keeps you hooked. The fact that most of these scenes also have crackling comedies from Yogi Babu and Sivakarthikeyan makes it all even more enjoyable.
Maaveeran seems like the product of a confident writer who embellishes an uncomplicated story with just the necessities it requires; like every open page getting closure before moving forward. Take, for instance, the dynamics of Sunil and Mysskin (both are excellent in their roles) and how their arcs end. Likewise, the audience doesn’t always hear the voice speaking to Sathya, and Ashwin plays with this to build something parallely.
You also can’t help but appreciate the subversion of the comic tale of Maaveeran and the Ilavarasi. The writing is such that even the somewhat predictable third act gives you a lot to nibble over. However, in an otherwise neat political drama, you do wish Ashwin’s take on the immigrant workers — something he touches upon with Yogi Babu’s character and his employers opting for immigrant workers — is more transparent.
Like in Mandela, Maaveeran’s female lead — Adithi Shankar, as a journalist named Nila — helps the vulnerable hero and eventually joins his cause. Even when Nila helps Sathya see sense in a scene set at a flyover, it fortunately doesn’t across as one employing the ‘fixer heroine’ trope; she becomes the voice of what we feel as an audience.
Music composer Bharath Sankar builds the strong foundation that supports Ashwin’s ideas; along with Vidhu Ayyanna’s visuals, Bharath helps Ashwin in creating an ingenious urban superhero. The music blends into the narrative, and even Scene Ah Scene Ah, a big dance number that has vocals by Anirudh Ravichander, doesn’t stick out as a hero entry song, and has more to do with thr world-building.
Maaveeran is a story about the inner voice that asks you to do the right thing, driving home a point to those who turn a blind eye until the waves crash their homes; Siva aces this high-concept actioner that also respects commercial cinema sensibilities.
Maaveeran is currently running in theatres