How to watch Maamannan in the UAE
A Mari Selvaraj movie puts a reviewer in a quandary. The director has emerged as a credible voice of the oppressed caste (Dalits). His first movie Pariyerum Perumal (2018), arrived as a bolt from the blue, showcasing the plight of Dalits in a village in South Tamil Nadu with rare verve and empathy. It was a film filled with his pain for the suffering of his fellow Dalits, and he presented it with artistic felicity without resorting to cliches or preachy sentimentality. Mari Selvaraj stayed true to his roots in his second movie Karnan (2021), influenced by the 1995 Kodiyankulam caste violence. Though Karnan did not have the creative assurance of Pariyerum Perumal, it was no less powerful owing to its intellectual honesty. Even if Karnan was a lesser movie (relative to Pariyerum Perumal), most critics praised the film, keeping in mind Mari Selvaraj’s sincerity and the political correctness behind his efforts.
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With Maamannan, critics will be tested again. Decidedly, this is the weakest of Mari’s three movies. But its intention is noble, and the need for Dalit voices to be heard is real. But to review the film from this perspective is to patronize it and be dishonest to the art Mari swears by. So, as we said, the moral conundrum in reviewing Maamannan for what it is is real and rife.
There was no doubt about what was going to Mari’s concerns in Maamannan. He once again placed the oppressed and oppressor caste against each other. But Periyerum Perumal was suffused with hope despite the unmitigated sufferings. Karnan could stand for its own as the problems of Dalits were seen in a retelling of the Mahabharatha. But Maamannan offers no such creative perspective, as it falls, especially in the second half, into a simple and tiring, good vs evil fight that we are so often used to seeing on screen.
But the first half is still eminently watchable, not the least for one of the most powerful villain portrayals in recent times by Fahadh Faasil. The comedian Vadivelu in a serious role is interesting, but the initial attraction wears off quickly as his role has been written unconvincingly.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The story is about the eponymous Maamannan (Vadivelu), who is from an oppressed caste and an MLA. His son is Adhiveeran (Udhayanidhi Stalin), a traditional martial art teacher and also has a pig farm (Mari’s penchant for animal imagery comes into play here). On the other side is Rathnavel (Fahadh Faasil), a politico in the same party but belonging to the so-called upper caste.
Leela (Keerthy Suresh), who runs a coaching centre, runs afoul of Rathnavel’s brother, and she reaches out to her college friend Veeran for help. This sets off a typical clash, and now Maamannan and Rathnavel are caught in an ego war. Once the film’s premise is set up, it goes all downhill.
But the first half is solid. It is suffused with soft love that contradicts heart-ripping violence from Rathnavel to animals and me. The inhuman atrocities committed in the name of caste are brought out in a manner that shakes one. It is well brought out with Vadivelu on one side and Fahadh on the other. The duo walk away with all the acting honours, but Udhayanidhi seems unconvincing in a role that calls for more gravitas and gumption. Keerthy Suresh’s role is also underwritten.
AR Rahman’s music is one of the film’s strong points as he understands the nuance of the caste issues and rural flavour.
Overall, Mari shows he is still a bankable director and spiritedly holds the banner for the issues Dalits face. But the second half also underscores that he cannot continue in the same vein for long.
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.