Blending the craft of filmmaking with strong political statements has been the one thing that made Mari Selvaraj’s movies stand out from the other films that show the oppression faced by the Dalits. Regarding Maamannan, I would say the impact is considerably less due to the overall optimism about a near-perfect future. But the efforts to narrate the story engagingly using the visual medium is evident, and this time Mari Selvaraj is trying to enter the psyche of a casteist person who doesn’t even know he is consumed by that rage.
Maamannan is the sitting MLA of the ruling party, and his leader in the local area is Rathnavel. Rathnavel, who inherited power and money from his father, never wanted to see the rise of anyone beneath him. Maamannan’s son Athiveeran is a martial arts teacher, and the guy shares a very strained relationship with his father due to a childhood incident that also had something to do with caste. The movie revolves around the conflict between Rathnavel and Athiveeran when the former treated Maamannan disrespectfully. We see how that friction conspired into a bigger fight in Mari Selvaraj’s Maamannan.
Visual metaphors have been a significant element in Mari Selvaraj’s way of filmmaking, and that iconic Tea glass shot in the climax of Pariyerum Perumal is something nobody will forget. In Maamannan, also he uses visual language to establish his characters. A combination of match cuts and cross cuts is used in the very beginning of the movie, where we see how Athiveeran treats pigs and Rathnavel treats dogs. And in the backstory that reveals the reason why the father and son won’t talk to one another also uses visual storytelling very impressively to convey the root cause of everything. The political rivalry between Maamannan and Rathnavel that consumes a significant chunk of the second half is where the writing feels a bit generic, and the craft struggles to enhance the moments. But the film’s climax, I don’t know whether the last Kerala assembly elections inspired Mari Selvaraj to go for such a climax, helps the movie very much in making even the privileged audience leave the theater thinking about social realities.
The Ambedkar ideology we see in the films of Mari Selvaraj, Vetrimaran, and Pa Ranjith has strengthened the idea of creating more and more political films. The reason why those films worked had to do with the filmmaking style these makers opted for. One thing I really liked about Maamannan was how they redesigned the antagonist. Rathnavel is not that usual villain driven by a superiority complex. He is grown up in a climate that had normalized this hierarchy, and he is also aware that he can’t openly vouch for it. In the scene where he gets angry with Maamannan, he reacts more like Maamannan broke a custom. He is aware of the political gains and plans every step. Even when the story goes through certain routine phases that you can predict easily, this construction of a less caricature-like bad guy aids the movie in being more serious and relevant. Selva RK’s cuts had a major role in creating intrigue in many significant areas. AR Rahman’s background score elevates many crucial scenes.
As the title character Maamannan, Vadivelu is pretty much playing the representative of that bridge generation who is slowly coming to terms with the fact that they should have revolted. It is a performance that demanded the maturity and confidence of someone who had seen it all, and Vadivelu was definitely an apt choice. Udhayanidhi Stalin’s performance, whose political portfolio will definitely benefit from this movie, is better than the rest of his performances. However, still, you would wish to see someone like Dhanush in such a role. For me, the best performance came from Fahadh Faasil as the cunning and remorseless Rathnavel. Yes, the beats of his performance are familiar, but it really works for the film, as the conviction in performance was essential for that role. Keerthy Suresh’s role is important, but it wasn’t a greatly demanding character.
Out of the three films Mari Selvaraj has done so far, I would say this is the least impressive. But that doesn’t mean it is a heavily compromised or hastily set up creation. From using color palettes and his signature metaphors to upgrading the sensibilities of the antagonist, the director is trying to push the political film genre to achieve something new. And that creative decision to take these movies away from a possible burnout phase is appreciable.
From using color palettes and his signature metaphors to upgrading the sensibilities of the antagonist, the director is trying to push the political film genre to achieve something new.
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended