Master - A very good attempt at content driven commercial cinema

Now, I don't have the calibre to review a film like Master directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj starring Thalapathy Vijay, Makkal Selvan Vijay Sethupathi, Malavika, Arjun Das, Andrea and others.

I am an admirer of Lokesh's approach to storytelling and also his stories. I am also an admirer of Vijay's stardom, his charisma, and his screen presence. Like everyone else, I am a huge admirer of VJS's versatility and character nuances that brings his characters to life. If all these 3 come together for a project, it is nothing less than a festival. The expectations reach as high as the kite that we fly for Pongal.

I am not here to pass any judgement on the film, but will lay out what worked and what did not, FOR ME!

How often do you see

  1. A Star Hero scratching his back in pain when hit by a small-time goon?

  2. A Star Hero making a mockery of his own trademark style of popping mints into his mouth?

  3. A Star Hero being admonished by an actress in all seriousness?

  4. A Star Hero is trumped by a kid in saving the leading lady from danger, and that too miles away from the place of danger?

  5. A Star Hero agrees to share equal screen space with another Star Hero?

  6. Finally, A Star Hero ending up in jail in the climax?

The ANSWER to all these questions is a chest-thumping MASTER.

The first definitive thing that worked out for me is the fact that it is not a Vijay film where he is bashing up a bunch of drunkards and breaking into a motivational speech leading to their transformation. Instead, in this movie, he is one of those drunkards who over a period realises the harm and its ill consequences leading to self-transformation. And then you get a Vijay who bashes up a bunch of drug-addicted juveniles and breaks into a motivational speech leading to their transformation. This Vijay's words hit differently compared to that Vijay's words due to his character arc.

The prologue of the film is brilliantly used for setting up the back story of the villain and his rise rather than trying to introduce the hero. Like Lokesh's previous two outings, the Hero is introduced right at the time the story needs it the most and with a peppy track. Post that, you see Bhavani slowly moving inches closer to his political entry by killing the 3 people who are in his way. In each of these scenes, you see a Bhavani who is evil, fierce, and completely at ease with himself and his actions. Add a tinge of dark humour to these conversations and the scene just lights up and the audience erupts.

At the core of Master is a clash between two people and the only difference between both of them is a MASTER (a teacher). While JD's backstory is explained in a few lines by Nassar to Malavika, the event that gets him addicted to drinking is the demise of his teacher who brought up this orphan. It was this MASTER who shaped JD's philosophies for life explained beautifully in the song -Kutti Story. JD and Bhavani mirror each other contrastingly at almost all places. A personality development Master who believes that shaping students can change the country and a villain who uses kids from the Juvenile correction centre to run his illegal business makes for a simmering clash at every level.

Mass elements are what fans look for in their Star's movie and Lokesh gives them all that but in his style that is so refreshing and whistle worthy. Take for instance the Hero introduction sequence - A Tarantino type of taking mixed with a traditional foot to face reveal. The entire Vaathi Coming sequence is just a blast on the screen. The interval bang, Kabaddi sequence and the initial portion of the climax fight are just pure mass elements and sets the euphoria for fans. The brilliance is that even Bhavani's character gets his fair share of mass elements. Take for instance the initial auction sequence in the introduction or the ostrich egg scene, or the interval scene. The highlight of them all is the scene where Bhavani makes horns out of his hair in a conversation with JD.

Bhavani's fist's character is built as meticulously as Bhavani's character itself. All the pent up anger for the injustice done to him finds its way to his fist as there is no outlet for him. These dark emotions channelized into his fist gives him a supernatural power that has been made so believable with brilliant writing and cinematography.

JD's kada's character is built as meticulously as JD's character itself. It lends a psychological power to the one who wears it whom we generally consider powerless. Initially, it is worn by Gauri Kishan when she goes for a talk with Shantanu, and then it is worn by Undiyal which sets in motion the kabaddi sequence.

While it was just sheer brilliance from Lokesh as the fist and the kada are the ones that actually end up facing each other in the climax.

While I have seen many complain about the run time, I felt that it needed that kind of a length to justify the 2 STAR's on the screen driving the story. To build character takes time and when you are trying to build a character-driven story with STAR heroes as the leading men, it definitely needs that much screen space for each character or you just cannot satisfy the story or the fans.

Coming to another major drawback that many have pointed out is the lack of character arcs for the characters of Shantanu, Gauri Kishan, Nassar, and Andrea. I just feel that it is because they are big names in the Industry and by default we expect them to play a major role in the story. But if we just see them as regular characters, then they just did what they were meant to move the story ahead. Most of those characters come back in the story at some point. Some as JD's weaknesses and some as JD's strength. It was all fine for me because it was JD vs Bhavani all along and the story stayed true to that.

It is Vijay vs VJS all along. The way they have portrayed their characters shows the scope for performance even in a commercial movie like this. Vijay's screen presence, comedy timing, and action in emotional scenes are just pure treat. VJS' low key way of acting and some subtle nuances just go on to prove once again how he owns a character and delivers it in the most believable manner.

But in fact, what did not work well for me is very little. It is the introduction of new plot lines in the second half. It is because when you have spent almost 45 min in the first half trying to establish Bhavani and his empire of illegal activities, it would have made more sense to try and break something from there. I would have loved to see Vijay destroy Bhavani's empire bit by bit. Hitting him in all the areas that matter to him the most, like his illegal trucks business and so on. The only other thing that I felt was unnecessary is the extravagant lorry chase sequence in the pre-climax.

While these are some minor points, I enjoyed the movie thoroughly and I am sure you too will. Vijay and VJS's screen presence, Lokesh's taking and the Rockstar Anirudh's background score are sure to bring a festive atmosphere to the theatre - that too after a long time.

The fact that MASTER is globally the highest-grossing movie released last week, that too with just 50% occupancy and only 40% overseas theatres opened proves Vijay's stardom has reached the zenith. A 200 crore grossing has become a cakewalk for Thalapathy and definitely a feather in the cap for the young Lokesh Kanagaraj.

Wishing and hoping that we get more of such content-driven commercial movies from stars and directors from now on. Happy belated MASTER PONGAL Nanba!!

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