A still from Maara.

Review: Maara, a Paradise Crumbled Under the Weight of Mundanity

The movie is directed by Dhilip Kumar.

Movie Reviews
4 min read


Review: Maara, a Paradise Crumbled Under the Weight of Mundanity

Maara opens with a fable narrated by a nun (Padmavati Rao). She doesn’t address the audience directly, though. She tells the story to a young girl who happens to be her co-passenger on the bus she has boarded. It’s an epic actually that involves a big fish, a boat, a soldier and the sea. Naturally, the kid wants to know more, and so do we. But director Dhilip Kumar presses the pause button there and moves on to the next segment. If somebody someday makes a full-length feature based on this gorgeous nugget, it’ll be a treat to the eyes. And it has to be animated, mind you. Otherwise, it won’t make any sense. Is Pixar listening?

Madhavan in a still from Maara.
Madhavan in a still from Maara.
(Photo Courtesy: Youtube screengrab)

After that brilliant opening passage, Paaru (the young girl from the bus, now an adult, played by Shraddha Srinath) is seen at a wedding-related event. All the eyes are on her, for she’s an eligible bachelorette. She doesn’t want to get married to a regular person, i.e. a guy who is handsome and does a boring job. She wants a piece of the fable she listened to, as a child. She longs to enter that part of the world. Alas, this is real life and real life can’t function according to the fancy rules laid down by the myths.

She quickly packs her bags and runs away – not literally, however – to a seaside town. And this is where the quirkiness of Charlie (the Malayalam original, directed by Martin Prakkat) comes alive. The alleyways are spray- painted and the people she runs into are charming enough to make room for her. She’s a restoration architect, but we don’t need to know that. It’s not an important plot point that the filmmaker delves into. But it’s important for her and maybe that’s why she appreciates the art around her. Her house is a museum of pencil sketches, clay models, and whatnot. No, she didn’t make any of them from scratch. She just moved into a bohemian paradise.

If this section of the film had been set in Pondicherry, it wouldn’t have looked strange, or unbelievable. But there’s a certain charm in Kerala that nobody can deny.

It’s not like Goa – it’s not a party palace. Nevertheless, the coastal cities of the Malayalam state possess an otherworldly allure. If you visit Kochi during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, you can catch hundreds of Maaras and Charlies at work.

With all these cultural aspects in place, Maara moves briskly, like a breeze, through the first hour. Paaru’s search for the vagabond, Maara (Madhavan), takes her to different sides of the town. She gets in touch with a few thugs, an antique dealer, and even a thief, to get an idea behind Maara’s eccentricity. But he’s not the kind of person she can get hold of easily. As though a riddle she needs to solve, she takes it as a challenge to find him.

Again, this isn’t a cat-and-mouse game, unlike the other Madhavan-starrer Vikram Vedha. Maara isn’t hiding from Paaru. He simply doesn’t like to have a place he can call his home. He wants to travel around the country and experience different cultures. Also, we don’t get these blobs of information via the conversations he has. They, rather, come through the things that Paaru hears about him. So far, so good, right? But everything that’s buttery and sunshine-y about Maara ends once it shifts to a hill station.

Although Paaru lugs her luggage up the hill to learn more about a character (Kani, portrayed by Sshivada) that she encounters in an unpublished graphic novel, the movie goes downhill. Various characters pop up here. It’s definitely nice to see a bunch of old guys make fun of each other, but that’s not enough. Right from the time Paaru steps into Vellaiya’s (Mouli) bungalow, it begins to feel like a different film.

A still from Maara.
A still from Maara.

Paaru seems no longer interested in Maara’s journey. Nor does she show the slightest vacuum in her heart. Didn’t she go all the way to the hills to catch a glimpse of him, after all? Plus, the problem isn’t merely about the new development in the tale. It’s really about how mundane it becomes. From the animated style of storytelling in the prologue to the straitjacketed narration towards the end, it’s a trip that the movie should have clearly avoided.

And the theme of Vellaiya’s unrequited love certainly required another platform.

We don’t often see grey-haired men drinking and having philosophical exchanges in Tamil cinema. Maara has some place for it, but it doesn’t even scratch that surface.

Come to think of it, even Madhavan is salt-and-pepper haired. Shouldn’t there be another facet to a middle-aged gypsy as opposed to, say, a twenty-something Charlie (Dulquer Salmaan)?

Anyway, what makes the film watchable mostly is Ghibran’s background score. It holds all the pieces together, as if it were a cupboard of emotions. That, and largely that, is what Maara can boast about.

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