Thursday Tamil: Maari, a Very Irreverent Film

What a fun movie! So glad it is on Netflix so I can watch it easily and recommend it to you all.  Maybe not a brilliant Balachander level film like the last few Tamil ones I watched, but very very fun.

I’ve been avoiding this movie because I read the synopsis on wikipedia years ago, after catching a glimpse of one of the songs and being intrigued, and the synopsis sounded like the darkest most depressing film EVER.  But turns out, it only sounded that way because it was making fun of those kind of depressing movies.  Well, not exactly making fun, but taking it to extremes and putting it in a special kind of illogical world.

An illogical world that has a dark logic to it.  Late in the film, the heroine tells the hero that she can trust him.  Because he is a man who says he is bad even though he does good things.  Which is better than a man who says he is good and does bad things.

She isn’t saying he has to do ONLY good things, she is accepting that he is a bad person, but if he does at least one good thing, that is still better than most people, better than alternative options.  And that is what this film is about, a ridiculous silly kind of a hero, who turns out to be the best of the bad options out there.

Oops, now it’s sounding dark again!  It’s really not.  It’s taking this world and laughing at it.  Laughing at our need for clear answers, our simple assumption that everyone bad is bad and everyone good is good.  And it’s laughing not at the real world, but at the film world, this film world of local gundas and smuggling and protection money and silly fight scenes and romances that magically start in no time at all.  Most of all it’s laughing at the audience for these movies, the ones who see the world in simple black and white and refuse to see shadings, tricking us by using our assumptions and then inviting us to join in on the joke.

A large part of this is from our hero Dhanush.  Because he’s not what a “hero” is supposed to look like, too small and thin with an odd way of moving and a strange way of emoting.  And the film leans into that, giving him crazy accessories and facial hair and all sorts of other things that make him seem just not heroic at all.  Not scarey either, just funny and odd.  Like a film fans idea of a gangster more than a gangster himself.  Which is the point of this film, that being a gangster or a cop or an innocent young girl (Kajal does a decent job too) is all just a pose.  They are all playing a role and isn’t the world funny?

 

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So you can see what I mean about the bare outlines being depressing, here it is.  Dhanush is a gunda who runs protection for a particular neighborhood on behalf of his boss.  Kajal moves in to open a boutique and Dhanush shows up to demand protection money from her.  He and his men keep coming around and bothering her, hanging around the shop and so on.  But then the other rival gangster comes in and demands the money he lent Kajal to open the shop, and Dhanush shows up to save her.  Kajal seems to soften after that and asks to help take care of his racing pigeons.  Dhanush falls for her, and admits he loves her, and then agrees to tell her the truth about his “murder”, admits that he stabbed the guy, but he survived the stabbing only to die in another fight a few days later allowing Dhanush to take the blame for it.  At which point Vijay Yesudas, the new cop for the area, shows up to arrest Dhanush and explains that Kajal was working under his orders all along, angry at Dhanush for forcing her to pay protection, she went to the police and agreed to be an informer.  In the second half, Dhanush comes out of jail seemingly peaceful and different.  Only to learn that Vijay was a corrupt cop.  He set everyone up, used Kajal to get to Dhanush, and once Dhanush was out of the way, arrested the big boss and took over the sandalwood smuggling business.  Dhanush at first plans to leave town, but then has a change of heart and goes back to being a gunda, eventually taking the town back.  All without ever truly becoming a hero, he continues to threaten and collect money from the people, wear ridiculous gold chains and sunglasses, and he never fully reconciles with Kajal.

Sounds dark, right?  A lying love story, a crooked cop, a hero who is never really a hero.  But it’s not!  It’s light and silly and all about “isn’t the world a funny place and shouldn’t we all laugh at it?”

One interesting thing, the writer/director/someone intelligently realized that the line Dhanush’s gangster shouldn’t cross, or allow any of his men to cross, is misbehaving with women.  He slaps and demands money from the men, but he doesn’t touch women.  He also doesn’t flatter them, or treat them as anything special.  He will fight and nag and complain at woman, he will be terribly rude, but he will never in anyway suggest that he expects anything romantic from a woman.  That’s why Kajal was able to get to him so easily, he wasn’t used to woman talking to him and him talking back to them.

There’s a bigger meaning to this, pressuring women for sex, or anything in the general area of that, shows a certain kind of lack of empathy.  A viewing people as only there for your own purposes, not in their own right.  Dhanush may extort money and threat and hit men and so on, but he is not a sociopath.  He is capable of seeing people as people and caring for them.  At least a very small amount.

In contrast to Dhanush we have Vijay Yesudas.  Who is seemingly “good”, no need to look for little hints of goodness, he is the noble cop come to clean up the town, obviously he is good.  But if you look at what he actually does, he doesn’t act “good”.  He obsesses over catching Dhanush, who is not the most harmful criminal around.  He uses Kajal, encouraging her to put herself in danger.  And he shows up at the end to triumph over his successful arrest.  All things that cops do in other movies, but this movie questions it, asks about the source of this kind of obsession over arresting one criminal, about the gloating over him, about the idea of “cleaning up” a neighborhood, is any of that healthy?

And so we have the second half.  Which argues that if your choice is between a corrupt cop and a gangster with some touches of humanity, you should choose the gangster.  Dhanush doesn’t turn “good”, it is more that people come to a “better the devil you know” feeling.  And “the devil who knows you”.  Dhanush may demand money and hit and yell, but at least he seems the people of his area as people, it wouldn’t occur to him to use them as Vijay does, tricking them into doing his dirty work and heartlessly sending them to jail.

There’s a bigger (very cynical) meaning here.  While your local gangster may seem like a threat, it is really the implacable power of the state and the police that you should fear.  And Kajal is the audience stand-in in learning this lesson.  As a nice young woman, she is at first horrified at the very idea of needing to pay protection money.  And then disgusted at this crass brightly dressed man and his goons who keep coming around her shop and cheerfully badgering the customers.  She does the “right” thing and goes to the police to complain, and then follows their orders thinking she is setting society right and making her neighborhood safer.  Only to learn that she was a fool, she was only looking at the surface and not the real story.

The overall theme of the film is homing pigeons.  The neighborhood is mad for homing pigeons and pigeon races, which cop Vijay can’t understand.  Even Kajal doesn’t understand it at first.  But eventually she learns.  Late in the film Dhanush’s pigeon coops are burned by his rival, but the pigeons still come back to him, even with the coop being gone.  Dhanush knew they would, knew that pigeons always return home no matter what happens to their home.  That is what his life is, and his neighborhood life.  The cop is an outsider.  But the people of the neighborhood, including Dhanush, they are locals, this is their home, they will always return to it and want to keep it.  That’s what makes them better, that’s what makes them trustworthy.  They may extort and threaten and take, but ultimately they will do nothing to damage their home.

There is supposed to be a Maari 2 filming now, and my hope is that it keeps the bite and lightness of this film.  I don’t want Dhanush to turn into a real “hero”, I want him to stay that gangster gunda type with some small moments of humanity.  Because it is so much more interesting that way, and gives a good lesson, the lesson Kajal learns, that maybe it is better to trust someone who seems bad but does good things than the one who appears good but is bad.

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17 thoughts on “Thursday Tamil: Maari, a Very Irreverent Film

  1. I haven’t seen the movie, so will speak based on your review only. But as a person who lives in Sicily, I’m not sure I like the message of this movie. Romanticization of local gangsters is a very dangerous thing.

    And from other things – Dhanush’s dance is on my “Things that make me happy in Indian films” list right after Sonu Nigam’s voice 😀

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    • First, CHECK OUT ANU’S COMMENT BELOW!!!!! They are making a movie as though they reached into your mind and pulled out all the things you love.

      Second, I think you hit on what felt so refreshing about this film. It wasn’t turning the gangster into a hero, he is still a gangster and not that great of a guy. But it was also dealing with the reality that sometimes the gangsters rise to power in a neighborhood because they are the best of bad options. Society has failed, there are no jobs, there is no viable police force, so illegal economy and illegal enforcement rises. So often in Indian movies it is a straight up “noble gangster/corrupt cop”, but this was more “so-so gangster, really terrible cop.”

      Mostly though, CHECK OUT ANU’S COMMENT!

      On Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 8:52 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • LOL I knew about Tovi and Sai in Maari 2 and I’m very happy they have been cast together. Can’t wait to see them, and Dhanush on screen.

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  2. I liked Maari but I’m not super excited about the sequel. I feel like sequels almost always dilute the things that made the first movie good. I’d rather the team get together for a new movie.
    They’ve already started filming the sequel though. Sai Pallavi is in it and I believe Tovino Thomas will be the ‘villain-so there is that at least.

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    • My hope for the sequel is that it turns the original into a prologue of sorts. We have Dhanush now, still corrupt and not great, but newly appreciated by the area and newly loyal to his neighbors. If, for instance, a new land developer came in and paid Dhanush off to evacuate the area, would Dhanush then have a change of heart later realizing he had lost his home? Or, what about if a woman was threatened? They avoided that in this film (one of the reasons I liked it, not including the attempted rape scene that seems to be in all gangster movies). But would that actually make Dhanush angry, would that be a line he wouldn’t cross?

      That’s my hope, but I could also easily believe it just turns into a tired rehash of themes like VIP2.

      On Thu, Apr 19, 2018 at 9:12 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I agree with you. But somehow the ending of VIP 2 worked for me. Rather than going all fighting like a hero (he does this in the first part), his stint as a negotiator here seemed much better. Almost the corporate way! It was still better, as the lead does not loose his heroic shades; he’s still the “hero”.

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