Master: An interesting hero-centric masala film

I wanted to catch this film on the day of its release but couldn't. I have always wanted to go for the proverbial FDFS (First Day First Show) of such heroes. Mainly to witness and experience the mad rush of adrenaline while watching a demi-god on-screen dance, fight and deliver punch dialogues. Having said that it was underwhelming to watch such a film with very little disturbance from the fans. I was surprised (also, a little bit disappointed and angry with the current state of affairs due to the pandemic) that I got a ticket for a prime-time show... wait for it... on a Saturday!

Nevertheless, I went and watched the film yesterday and wanted to talk to somebody about the film. I wanted to talk about how it felt to finally watch a movie at the cinemas. I wanted to discuss the Vijay in this film, the writing of it, the current trend of stories, the various aspects of this film, Vijay's graph as an actor, the satisfaction of watching a full movie without any break, of my love for Vijay Sethupathi, and so on and so forth. Alas! The kind of friends that I have (don't kill me guys) are not that interested in having such in-depth and long discussions. The ones that are don't live close enough to indulge in such pleasures. So here you are dear readers, bearing the brunt of this. I guess this is where people who are not interested in long articles drop off - I am sorry for such a long draft team CT.

So, let's begin. Master - probably one of the most awaited films ever of Vijay for multiple reasons. The ruthless corona-scare, the debut collaboration with a nascent Lokesh Kanagaraj, the shades of Nammavar, the interesting aspects of watching the nuances of the writer-director and the mass hero and most important of all, the leaked scenes on the internet just before the release. To me, it was the collaboration that was the most interesting aspect and I was itching to go and watch it.

His Maanagaram and Kaithi were exciting features. After making himself a force to reckon with in his debut, he showed that even stars can be actors when the script is strong. Naturally, a film with Vijay was going to be an exciting venture. In the interviews close to the release of Master, Lokesh had said that this film had a 50-50 approach from him. 50 per cent of his sensibilities and 50 per cent to appease the masses a.k.a. Vijay-fans. The result is not at all bad, to be honest. This is probably the only film of Vijay where there is no flashback to why JD behaves in the manner he does. Most films until now, always have a flashback (just a glossy word for justification) of a hero's ruthlessness. For instance, Durbar, there is a long and weary flashback for why Adithya Arunachalam is a cold-blooded encounter specialist. But there is no such flashback for JD's behaviour here. The reasoning (which was quite unconvincing and I would have preferred it unknown) is explained in a matter of a few minutes in the course of a car ride, thankfully.

Then we have the character of Bhavani by Vijay Sethupathi. I smiled just as the character was introduced in the film. The voice of Vijay Sethupathi for Mahendran (who plays the younger Bhavani and looks startlingly similar to Sethupathi) shuddering made me smile. Mahendran does a great job in establishing the evil persistence and intelligence of Bhavani. The rise of Bhavani is a very familiar segment in commercial cinema but Lokesh adds his touch with some refreshingly new heists and a logical yet superhuman touch to the villain. And just like his earlier films, the title of the film appears after a good 15 minutes into the story and has a very mass moment to it. I guess this is the only film where the title of a film has a mass entry and it doesn't disappoint!

Then comes the mass entry of Vijay himself. The "Master Blaster" song in the background is a very Dwayne Bravo kind of song and sticks. The introduction shot of JD is very interesting and the action sequence (a standard requirement for mass-heroes) is refreshingly choreographed. What is all the more interesting is that you don't get to hear the voice of Vijay for about half an hour into the film. This is a first for a "Vijay-film" and I love this fact. The most noteworthy part of this fact is that you don't even notice that Vijay doesn't speak for so long. Further, the dialogues for Vijay are also very low-key and there aren't any punch-dialogues. There are mass moments, sure. But all of them are created on the screen using the background score and shots and not through dialogues which is a great improvement and a much-needed one.

The songs are also well-thought-of and don't come in the way of the narration. My favourite is the filming of "Vaathi coming" and "Antha kanna paathaaka" which are very unusually done. The former is a "hero introduction" of sorts whereas the latter is a love-song in its own merit. The montage shots in the love songs are so beautiful and get the Vijay who has the shades of Surya in a love song. Something like a Manjal Veyil Maraiyuthe feel. Vijay was... cute in his expressions and the montages were similar to the love song montages of GVM in his films.

Which brings me to the writing of the film. Lokesh has always been an astute writer and tries really hard not to leave any loose ends or logical loopholes. The eye for details is very evident in the way the characters of Bhavani and JD are written. Both of their character arcs are really brilliant, in-depth and very believable. Both these characters have their superhuman touches but that doesn't become too stupid or silly. They are mirror images of each other. So much so that the scar on Bhavani's face (in black colour) is mirrored with a couple of similar, tiny band-aids on JD's face (in white). Both of them have one part of their body that is extremely strong which also is the most vulnerable part. Both of them are intelligent individuals - albeit in different places. Even here there is a twist, the villain is a teetotaller and the hero is a drunk. This is a revolution in writing a character arc for a mass hero who is generally nothing less than a "Mr Perfect". The transformation scene of Vijay is an unexplored aspect of the actor in himself and the result is pleasing and heartwarming.

With no offence to the actor, I had concluded that Vijay isn't capable of holding emotional scenes with close-up shots. But I was happy to be proved wrong and completely bought his acting in those scenes in the film. Yet, I love how calculated every scene of this film is in terms of the staging and direction. Somehow it feels like the director also wasn't quite sure about those shots. Therefore, the first time the emotional scene quickly transfers into a fight scene but the second time, the director decides to slowly close in on the actor crying his heart out and ends the scene after zooming out. The actor Vijay seemed to have so much fun with his character and even the mass scenes that boost his image, he played them so nonchalantly that not even for a moment I rolled my eyes!

However, the writing of other characters is not that satisfactory. The film has an ensemble cast of Vijay, Vijay Sethupathi, Andrea, Arjun Das, Andrea Jeremiah, Nasser, Shanthanu Bhagyaraj, Malavika Mohanan, Gauri Kishan, Dheena, Azhagam Perumal and others. Except for the characters of Vijay, Vijay Sethupathi and Arjun Das to some extent, no other actors have significant or impactful character arcs. I was disappointed at the extremely underwritten characters of Nasser (a fantastic actor but with no scope here), Andrea (after watching her in Taramani and Aval this is such a let-down) and Shanthanu (you would concur with me after watching Paava Kadhaigal.) and others. Malavika Mohanan's character had some depth in its reason for existence but the actor had very few scenes in the film and the importance never got translated onto the screen convincingly.

There are signature Lokesh Kanagaraj moments throughout the film. Most of it gets translated on to the screen from the taut writing. Take, for instance, the interval scene where the dialogue ends with Bhavani saying, "I'm waiting". This is exactly the dialogue that Vijay had mouthed at the exact point in his Kaththi and Thuppaki! What is more fun is that the "twist" that we are made to witness before this dialogue arrives. Bhavani says, "Listen. What I'm going to say is not new to you... I'm waiting" The film has a lot of such moments. There is another scene at the beginning of the film where JD tries to flip two mint gums into his mouth just like he did in his earlier film Theri) and gloriously flops. Of course, he does redeem himself later on the film with a more macho and successful attempt. But the film has a lot of callbacks and nuggets for the mass and cinephiles alike. It was refreshing to watch "the-audience-knows-the-villain-but-the-hero-doesn't" trope on the screen after a long time. When both the central characters meet for the first time, it is mass all the way!

The pure mass moments of Vijay are also well brought out. The Kabaddi scene is a tip-of-the-hat reference to Vidyasagar's phenomenal Gilli theme. As brilliant the remastering is, this also makes me wonder, how long Anirudh would do this. Sure, these themes and background scores would satisfy the masses, but would it be too wrong that I expected some groundbreaking stuff from him as well that I can relate to the stars later on? He had done the same kind of a tribute to Rajinikanth in Petta and Darbar. Though the one in Petta is more contextual, the Darbar remastering of Deva's Annamalai theme could have been avoided. The same applies to the Kabaddi scene here too. If this trend of riding the wave of nostalgia continues, it wouldn't be long before some of the best songs from our industry reach the frightening lows of Masakali 2.0.

People may sight the run time (close to a massive 3 hours) but the film needs this time to breathe and entertain. The political issues that are typical of Vijay films of late, like politics, religion in politics, juvenile crime rate, etc are there. There is even a Vijay-filmTM preachy dialogue. But that didn't bore me. Given the context of the scene, that long sermon was necessary. Vijay Sethupathi on the other hand, despite his evil-black character, gets a lot of punch dialogues and comedy. The scene where he gets hit by a bottle by one of his own henchmen is a laughter riot.

The trademarks of Lokesh Kanagaraj in terms of the trucks, a bucket, leg piece and biriyani are all found in this film too. But the contexts in which each of these appears are way more interesting and different. To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the actor Vijay and the director Lokesh blending and bonding in this roller-coaster ride. This could and should serve as a case study for all the commercial film-makers who want to make sensible and yet mass films with big stars.

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