It’s always fascinating to see how the same idea manifests in completely different films, more so when both are made by the same director. Madonne Ashwin’s sophomore film, Maaveeran, shares its soul with his debut Mandela, which bagged two National Awards in 2022.
In Mandela, a political satire, a commoner in a remote Tamil Nadu village suddenly becomes the VIP, when two warring political parties realise his vote will decide the winner of the local election. The vote becomes his superpower.
He first starts abusing his newfound influence and eventually realises its purpose. Now, replace the vote with a voice that warns the hero about every upcoming danger, and you get Maaveeran (Superhero). While Mandela is a realistic rural drama that explores the idea of an individual’s fight against the system, Maaveeran does the same as a superhero origin story.
However, while Mandela had a lot going for it, Maaveeran turns out to be basic with respect to its story. Madonne Ashwin has settled for a straightforward film with the idea that could have been so much more than Maaveeran.
It is not to say the film is underwhelming, but just like the film’s hero, it hesitates to live up to its potential. The film takes a long time to set up things, and it gets excruciating to see Sathya (Sivakarthikeyan), a coward, getting beaten up and shamed repeatedly.
A comic artiste, Sathya sells himself short by letting someone use his sketches for a Tamil paper. He doesn’t have it in him to demand money or an opportunity from the one exploiting him. Nila (Aditi Shankar), the sub-editor of the paper, ends up standing up for Sathya and gets him a job.
Meanwhile, Sathya and others living in a slum are made to relocate to a multi-storey apartment as part of the government scheme. Things get worse when things in the apartment start falling apart, literally.
The subpar construction makes the apartment unlivable but people are left with no option. While Sathya’s mother keeps revolting against the contractor, the son keeps telling her to ‘adjust’. He instead uses all his troubles to create content for his comic Maaveeran, a superhero who solves all the problems of the oppressed. But when he realises even his mom considers him unfit to live a respectful life, Sathya tries to take his life.
Though he fails in doing this as well, he sustains an injury to his head, and he starts hearing a voice (Vijay Sethupathi).
The whole first half of the film is spent on this set-up, which is tiring. Though the execution is brilliant and Yogi Babu keeps you entertained, those are not enough to make up for its predictability. On top of that, Sathya is completely unlikable (not Sivakarthikeyan’s performance, mind you).
Ashwin keeps making us wait for his hero to finally attain basic human dignity and a spine, but the wait is interminable. Though he is a stand-in for the collective cowardice of society, it is frustrating to see him not get redemption till the very end. Maybe, it’s human nature to hate someone that reminds us of our shortcomings, so it is hard to travel with this unlikable hero.
What stands out in Maaveeran is those few great ideas that are explored in the action sequences. On top of that, the ingenious interaction between Sathya and the voice. It is hilarious to see someone fight and wrestle with his own thoughts.
I can’t imagine what the script of Maaveeran will look like. It would be messy, but fascinating. When you think about it, there are two scripts at play here. One that’s happening to Sathya and the one the voice narrates to him. Though the outcome of each scene is the same, both narratives are different.
A big shoutout to Madonne Ashwin to conceive such a complex idea. When you think about it, Sathya is not breaking the fourth wall, like Fleabag for instance. Yet, there’s something meta going on here. The voice could be Sathya’s subconscious or a superpower or the collective voice of the audience, who badly want him to hit back.
Despite all such brilliance that’s realised towards the end of the film, in retrospect, the excruciating wait one has to endure to get there does leave a bit of a bad aftertaste.
Maaveeran director: Madonne Ashwin
Maaveeran cast: Sivakarthikeyan, Mysskin, Aditi Shankar, Saritha, Sunil, Yogi Babu