Cast: Dhanush, Malavika Mohanan, Samuthirakani, Smruthi Venkat, Ramki
Director: Karthick Naren
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Dhanush’s third straight direct-to-OTT platform release is a listless crime thriller that even the otherwise dependable actor can do little to salvage. Maaran, written and directed by Karthick Naren and streaming on Disney+Hotstar, is a muddled mish-mash of generic tropes that simply do not add up to a cohesive whole.
Dhanush, whose Jagame Thandhiram and Atrangi Re bypassed the theatres last year and landed on streaming platforms without making any waves, is surprisingly inert in Maaran. Unlike the makers of the film, the actor appears to be perfectly cognizant of the futility of the exercise and thinks the better of investing overt effort in the role.
That is not to suggest that Dhanush sleepwalks through the film. There are junctures at which he does spring to a modicum of life, but the film as a whole never does. It begins bland and stays bland. Hobbled by a screenplay that lacks polish, Maaran fails to gets its act together and flounders through a jumble of laboured twists that are meant to catch the audience by surprise. The surprises that Maaran springs are anything but pleasant.
For one, the screenplay stands on a foundation that draws on half-baked notions about journalism and the power of the pen. Not that its understanding of politics is any clearer. The two domains that constitute the film’s backdrop are treated with a cavalier disregard for veracity even as the director feigns a solemnity of purpose that is clearly beyond his grasp.
In an awkwardly literal interpretation of the much-flogged axiom about the pen being mightier than the sword (in this case, the knife), Maaran has a scene in which the protagonist whips out a fountain pen from his pocket, uncaps it and uses it to parry an attack by a bunch of knife-wielding hoodlums. The goons are quickly laid low and the hero coolly puts the writing instrument back in his pocket, probably to be similarly used at the next available opportunity.
Is that business as usual for a journo? Well, for Maaran, it is. Our man isn’t just a formidable pen-pusher but a veritable one-man army, too. When he lets his fists fly, which is pretty often, his avowed calling takes a back seat and the streetfighter in him takes over. He seems to be a far better man of ‘action’ than a newshound.
Inspired by his intrepid father (Ramki in a cameo) who sacrifices his life for the cause of the profession, a young journalist Mathimaaran (Dhanush) decides that he will never abandon the pursuit of truth. His determination puts him on a collision course with Pazhani (Samuthirakarani), a corrupt former minister of the ruling party.
The latter conspires to tamper with electronic voting machines in an upcoming by-lection and the hero is determined to thwart his ignoble designs. He does a sting operation. It yields an incriminating audio recording. The rage of the politician ire costs the crusader dear and his life is never the same again.
Starting off as a story of a fearless journalist who is killed for exposing a powerful man whose unexplained negligence causes the death of forty school students, Maaran turns into a sickly-sweet drama involving a doting big brother and a kid sister (Smruthi Venkat) before taking on shades of a half-baked police procedural and a limpid revenge tale, the two messily rolled into one.
Maaran is a case of one narrative component piled upon another without any apparent logic or rhythm. The brother-sister part of the tale is as hackneyed as they come. To be fair, the writer-director of Maaran is aware of the time-worn nature of the story of a protective older male sibling. He is like the heroes of old movies, the sister says. She is spot on.
The year is 2000. Mathimaaran, still in his knickers, sees his father being waylaid and killed. The same night, his mother dies in childbirth. The self-sacrificing boy resolves to raise his newborn sister with the help of his indigent maternal uncle (Aadukalam Naren), who irons clothes for a living.
The next thing we know is that it is 2021 and Maaran has become a journalist whose penchant for probity. His uncompromising ways do not endear him to his editors, who find fake news and inconsequential reportage easier to peddle. But that is not where the film begins. A drunken brawl in a seedy bar leads to Mathimaaran being marched off to a police station. The man is a complete wreck.
The film returns to a few months earlier to narrate the story behind Mathimaaran’s current state. Once that is out of the way, it is time for the protagonist to get back on his feet and go after the crooks who have thrown his life out of gear.
“You are the best investigative journalist around. Get up and investigate,” somebody exhorts him. And lo and behold, Mathimaaran jumps out of his tearful stupor and swings into action again. But this time around he is not so much as a reporter with a nose for news but a vengeance-seeker.
Barring Dhanush and, to an extent, Smruthi Venkat, the actors have little to do in film that itself has no clue where it wants to go. Malavika Mohanan plays a news photographer who works alongside Mathimaaran, is the hero’s romantic interest. She, however, gets the worst deal of them all, popping in and out the film without adding much value to it. Sad because Malavika Mohanan is an actress who merits much more than this film is willing to grant her.
Maaran is Malavika’s third Tamil film after the Rajinikanth starrer Petta and the Vijay vehicle Master. It is a forgettable outing. Her character is extremely sketchily etched although she does have a couple of scenes in the pre-climactic passages (these are devoted to a hero who has lost his bearings after a shocking turn of events) that allow her to demonstrate her emotive skills. Too little, too late.
Samuthirakani, playing the principal antagonist, is wasted, too. He might have served the film’s cause infinitely better had the character been written more imaginatively. But, then, the screenplay of Maaran is all over the place anyway and all the characters, even the one that Dhanush portrays, bear the brunt. Maaran is a misfire on all fronts.