Card tricks

Assorted musings on Mahaan, a very interesting film that unfortunately doesn’t work as well as one wishes it had. This piece is likely to contain some spoilers, so don’t read it unless you’ve watched the film, or don’t plan to, or don’t care if someone puts out spoilers.

Karthik Subbaraj seems to have made a message movie about honesty and moderation, but in a format that seems least suited for message movies. To paraphrase my favorite Ramachandra Guha line, here’s a film of moderate views, these sometimes expressed in extremist fashion.

The man who embodies the message of honesty turns out to be named… Satyavaan. He remains true to himself and his loved ones to the end. He is also the one who strives for moderation, although he rarely attains it. Turns out to be a good son and a good parent in the moral universe the film inhabits. And what happens in the end? He’s killed, and the two men left standing are extremists and liars. One a flawed parent, the other a flawed son. Seen through this lens, Mahaan is a tragedy. Or maybe he meant it to be a commentary on our times?

The idea of starting with a story that foreshadows the ending is quite nicely done. I just wish he didn’t see the need to spell it out to us.

A tighter first half would’ve made such a big difference to the film. The second half is gold.

Vikram finds a way to somehow shepherd his character through a topsy-turvy first hour, but by the time we get to the meat of the story, he’s gotten us hooked. This is a beautiful performance, complemented by a fantastic Bobby Simha. Sananth does well enough in a part that reminds me of Arya in Arinthum Ariyamalum. Dhruv Vikram appears psychotic enough to start (he’s got Resting ‘roid Rage Face, to paraphrase something my cousin told me), but the last half hour demands more of him than he is capable of giving at this point in his career, it feels like. Simran, I’m sorry to say, sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not sure if that melodramatic pitch was a deliberate choice, but the performance didn’t work for me at all.

One of my friends asked me how many stars I’d give the film. Here’s the thing: more stars could either indicate that the film is worth watching, or that it’s a very good film. Now, in many cases, these might be the same thing. But not always. This is one of those times.

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