Master movie review: Lokesh Kanagaraj's direction fades in this moderately entertaining Vijay film
Master is unfortunately the kind of film that concerns itself with too many things but can hardly focus on any of it beyond adorning the hero, Vijay.
castVijay, Vijay Sethupathi, Malavika Mohanan, Andrea Jeremiah, Arjun Das
JD is suspended. The students are irate. He did nothing wrong, they argue. In fact, he did nothing at all. He didn’t stalk, chase, corner, assault and kidnap two male college students for allegedly sexually harassing a female student (who we never see or hear from). JD is the hero, played by Vijay. The aforementioned is his introduction scene in Master, bejewelled by a sharply choreographed stunt sequence panning a moving bike, crowded bus and a metro train in transit.
Master is unfortunately that kind of a film — one that concerns itself with too many things but can hardly focus on any of it beyond adorning the hero and slick stunt choreography.
But first: Master is the story of JD, an inexplicably loved alcoholic college professor, who teaches personality development. Master is also the story of Bhavani, a hardened criminal who exploits juvenile delinquents for further his syndicate. At one point, not soon enough, JD and Bhavani lock horns.
In the process, we get scraped surfaces of many ideas. College elections, for instance, swiftly after Vijay gives a lecture on the importance of politics in education. There is a throwaway line about eliminating caste discrimination by removing the field from election data. There is a ‘democracy wall’. There is also some feminism: The female candidate is repeatedly lectured by male classmates and professors about being bold. Yet, JD can’t resist the temptation to mock Bhavani for his ‘feminine’ name.
In all this, what we never get is what makes JD unique, what makes him tick. Apart from his cool dance moves and hung-over irreverence, we don’t see why the students love him. We’re told he’s done a lot for them (and the management resents him for it), but what could make students love an unreliable alcoholic professor so much that they’d play music at his door to wake him up and drive him to college?
And apart from brute force, there appears to be nothing that makes JD connect with the youngsters in the juvenile home either. Would all addicts be uniformly grateful that you’ve snatched away their score? If one were a fan, one would perhaps believe in the natural charm of the actor. But otherwise, there is nothing that makes a viewer root for JD, apart from blind faith, perhaps.
The most striking thing about Master is the stark contrast between JD and Bhavani. JD is an alcoholic, Bhavani is a teetotaller. JD is loved, Bhavani is feared. JD is a believer, Bhavani is ladder-climber. JD has no real backstory, Bhavani has an elaborate one (with some funny dubbing to go with it).
Most strikingly, Vijay, who plays JD, puts a disproportionate effort into his role — he dances, sings, cries, laughs, loves, fights, shoots arrows from a moving car and then some. Vijay Sethupathy, who plays Bhavani, walks in the dark, punches walls and makes characteristic jokes. They were perhaps acting their salary’s worth. Perhaps.
On the other hand, they’re both very similar too. JD is interested in politics (or Vijay as JD is), so is Bhavani. JD’s only strength is violence, so is Bhavani’s. JD believes he has no one, so does Bhavani. This combination of contrast and commonness should present us with a moral dilemma — as Vikram Vedha (2017) did. But Master doesn’t indulge itself in such worldly endeavours. It prefers Vijay-boosting and slicks stunts instead.
In addition to Vijay and Vijay Sethupathy, there are as many people in the film as there were viewers on the first show on release day — too many and unnecessary. Malavika Mohanan, Andrea Jeremiah, Shanthanu Bagyaraj, Arjun Das, Ramya Subramanian, Nasser to name a few. None of them get much of a chance to do anything, though all of them certainly try. For instance, Andrea, who plays Vaanathi, the archery instructor, could have risen to play a crucial role in the story, but she falls, hangs and becomes second fiddle in no time. Shanthanu Bagyaraj doesn’t get to dance, which is an absolute shame, but he doesn’t get to do anything else either.
Malavika Mohanan is written more like an afterthought, though she’s supposed to be the one who sparks the inciting incident in the film. Her action is explained away, in a rather convoluted manner — not that it matters anyway.
If there is one person who works as hard as Vijay seems to have, it is Anirudh Ravichander, the music director. His BGM singlehandedly upholds ‘mass’ in the film, punching up several scenes, which would have fallen flat on its face otherwise. He makes much of the lags in the second half tolerable, he even makes some regular events enjoyable, like the montage in Vaathi Raid.
The film’s biggest failing, though, is that of Lokesh Kanagaraj. A filmmaker who had a unique voice — in both Managaram (2017) and Kaithi (2019) — finds himself meddled in a volatile hero-vehicle. The retro music, lorry chase scenes, Arjun Das’ deep voice don’t add to any cinematic novelty. The writing is clever in parts, but undifferentiated as a whole. Without any suspense — don’t we all know that Vijay will win in the end? — the second half turns tedious.
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