Maara movie review: R Madhavan's film demands patience of a hopeless romantic to invest in the story
If you aren’t instinctively drawn to the mystical world creates, R Madhavan's Maara is a drag
In one scene, two rowdy-like weapon-wielding men show up at the door of Manimaaran — in whose house Paru is staying but knows absolutely nothing about. They tell her that they are here about the disappearance of a young girl. On hearing this, she’s startled for a moment, just a fraction of a second, to then casually return to her romantic quest for the man in question. She displays no suspicion, fear, or even mild discomfort about the shady nature of everything going on around her. Such is the film Maara. You need special romantic eyes to watch it, let alone enjoy it.
Maara is the story of Paru, a restoration architect and relentless romantic, who finds herself attracted to the art of the eponymous hero, because they reflect a story from her childhood that she believed only she knew. Picking up scraps and sketches from his house, she goes in search of Manimaaran, discovering the largesse of his heart and expanse of his art in the process. She falls in love with the myth of Maara and then happily ever after (or to-be-decided).
In some ways, Maara felt like Kadhal Kottai for the 2020s generation — then again, Kamali and Suriya actually wrote to each other.
Maara begins well. In the prologue, we see nurse Mary tell a wide-eyed girl Paru a magical realist story of a soldier and his soul. The narration and accompanying animation set us up to expect a whimsical world. Even by that expectation, when we return to reality after the prologue, the film struggles to reconcile the magical with the realism.
The characters cross the line of quirk and meander into being otherworldly or even kitschy. Be it Alexander Babu, channelling his inner Chandrababu, or Guru Somasundaram as the boatman, or Kishore as the restauranteur making music with an empty liquour bottle against the wind, or even the lady who rides a scooter with a sidecar for her dog — they demand that you be a doe-eyed romantic to find them interesting.
The events don’t help either. At one stage, Paru finds Maara, who is walking only a few feet ahead of her, albeit among a crowded procession. Instead of calling out or even running to find him, she stops and admires him, finally stunned by the growing shadow he leaves behind. Should I take it as her reluctance to meet him? I wasn’t sure. Then again, I’m not a romantic.
And then, of course, Manimaaran himself is hardly interesting. Initially, he’s an artist, a storyteller, and free soul, who we might have taken a fancy to. Soon enough, everything about him devolves into benevolence. He throws a funeral for a prostitute he once met on a boat; he educates her daughter and saves her from her pimp of a father; he gives ‘second chance’ to a suicidal doctor; drinks with thieves; buys kulfi from ambitious entrepreneurs; saves a slum from being demolished by painting art on the wall etc. But we really know nothing about the man himself to fall in love with.
Manimaaran is a bit like Kalpana of Ghajini — cute, does charitable things, and is cinematographed in slow motion. And he doesn’t die, no spoiler there.
Madhavan doesn’t do much either. He walks around like a happy ghost, it’s almost hard to believe he’s the gypsy we’re being told he is. Paru is not much better either. But to be fair to Shraddha Srinath, who plays Paru, there is nothing written for her. She’s the one who steers the story forward. It is, in fact, her search. But I was left wondering if it’s simply idle curiosity that makes her go after Maara. She makes dreamy eyes, smiles wide, shrugs, and keeps travelling. That’s that.
The climax is almost funny in how she’s standing near a pillar alone waiting for Manimaaran to show up. She could have sat and watched TV or done some dishes and he could have found her just the same. Like I said, romantic I am not.
Apart from Abirami, who I was delighted to see on screen, the only thing going for the film is the earnestness and vulnerability that Vellaiya brings to the story. Mouli, who plays Vellaiya, fills the already well-written character with heart. Velaiyya too is a hopeless romantic, but of the real-world kind.
He desperately writes the same letter to his lover over and over because he hates the ink fading in them. He tells everyone he meets the same story again and again — much to their irritation — because he fears he’ll forget it otherwise. He keeps an old picture of his lover and looks at it longingly. His fear of dying without ever meeting the love of his life again is tangible.
Yet, he is rooted in the real world. He had a job, even if one that allowed him to travel so he can look for his lover along the way. He is irritable, grumpy, and a bit of a killjoy. He is reliable and reachable. He singlehandedly redeems the last act of the film, the rest of which was rather sagging.
If you aren’t instinctively drawn to the mystical world that Maara and Paru occupy, or even find it desirable, the film is a drag. If you’re a hopeless, dreamy romantic at heart, you might find your longing fulfilled.
Maara streams on Amazon Prime Video.
Watch the Maara trailer here
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