Following a fantastic debut and sophomore feature with 2018’s ‘Pariyerum Perumal’ and 2021’s ‘Karnan,’ Mari Selvaraj returns with his latest endeavour, the political family drama ‘Maamannan.’ Selvaraj focusses on tackling caste issues through his filmography, revealing the inhumanity and obstacles the Dalit community face under oppression and marginalisation. ‘Pariyerum Perumal’ follows a young law student who faces an unjust education system. ‘Karnan’ is about a village who are neglected and dismissed by larger society. Selvaraj is a self-assured filmmaker who presents highly stylised films through bold and significant colour palettes, visually stunning cinematography, and rich symbolism.
The film follows Maamannan (Vadivelu), a Dalit MLA for the ruling party, and his son, Athiveeran (Udhayanidhi Stalin), who are approached by the progressive-minded Leela (Keerthy Suresh) when her free tuition centre for underprivileged students is threatened. The film’s first half is classic Selvaraj fare: his second collaboration with cinematographer Theni Eswar following ‘Karnan’ produces some beautiful imagery, the plot is initially subtle yet emotionally devastating, animals feature as an important extended metaphor and the highlight of every Selvaraj film has been the pre-interval block, and ‘Maamannan’ is no exception. However, not soon after the interval, the film becomes a more generic political thriller, expecting the emotionality of the first half to carry the plot over the finish line. There are impactful moments in the second half, but these are few and far between.
Vadivelu playing against type as the titular character is the main highlight of the film; there is a humble majesty in his performance, and he displays emotions like heartbreak and pain with admirable conviction. A very close second is Fahadh Faasil as the antagonist Rathnavelu, who, in stark contrast to Maamannan, is an insecure, power-hungry tyrant. Faasil has proved himself to be an exceptional actor on numerous ocassions, and 'Maamannan' is yet another feather in his cap. The remainder of the main cast, consisting of Stalin and Suresh, turn in decent performances too.
Although the film is less overt with its stylistic choices, the first half is packed with great filmmaking. Picturesque high angle wide shots, black and white flashback sequences, tasteful slow motion footage of animals all serve the narrative well. There are haunting dream sequences and visions of raging fires reminiscent of Selvaraj’s other work. AR Rahman’s soundtrack, although leaving the listener wanting, has some decent tracks: the Vadivelu voiced ‘Raasa Kannu’ carries his poignant performance over into the song’s vocals, the peppy ‘Kodi Parakura Kalam’ has a great visual accompaniment, and ‘Nenjame Nenjame’ is a quietly moving track.
Overall, ‘Maamannan’ starts off promisingly, but does not carry the energy it mustered through to its finale. It truly is a film of two halves: the first half feels distinctly from Selvaraj’s oeuvre, however the film’s identity dissipates as it progresses. The film may be Selvaraj's weakest, but even his weakest is better than most. If you enjoyed ‘Maamannan,’ I would highly recommend Selvaraj’s earlier films ‘Pariyerum Perumal’ and ‘Karnan.’
Krishna's rating: 3 stars
Official trailer for the film below.