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Farhad Dalal
Farhad Dalal
4 Star popcorn reviewss


This film will go down as a case study on how to construct a screenplay that would transform a simple story into a layered drama! Vijay Sethupathi has always been regarded as a good actor but not all his choices have been worth mentioning. In fact, they have more often than not been a suspect by associating his name with projects reeking of mediocrity. Having said that, his previous few outing have been a tale of resurgence, particularly having worked with some quality filmmakers. As far as Maharaja was concerned, I still had my doubts of Vijay Sethupathi returning to the mass genre with ‘just another mass movie’. Yes, it did have one of my favourite directors Anurag Kashyap acting in the film too, something that I was looking forward to. But the quality of the film remained a suspect for me before its release. Seldom did I know that my opinion about the film won’t just change, but absolutely turn on its head with a screening that was a writing masterclass. But then for does the Tamil film Maharaja fair overall, let’s find out.

Story & Screenplay

Maharaja follows the story of a local barber who wishes to file a report about a burglary that lead to ‘Lakshmi’ being robbed. What seemed like a trivial case soon deepens with the introduction of other characters. The story here can best be termed as an old wine in a new bottle. There is no real novelty factor and if I were to trace it on the storyboard, it would be pretty straight forward with the kind of narrative at its core. This is not to say that it is bad, in fact it is gory and disturbing but just from a story writing point of view the plot is simplistic. But, and *drumrolls*, a very BIG BUT….The screenplay standing at 140 odd minutes is nothing short of a screenplay writing masterclass, given how a simplistic story was transformed into something totally different with elements of comedy and mystery seamlessly added in the drama. This not only hoodwinked the viewers but also lead to a narrative structure where the mystery is kept intact right until the end, with a whole lot of twists and turns to keep you intrigued and engaged. 

The drama here is quick to introduce the protagonist but what follows is a series of scenes that have little to no context between them. As a viewer, you aren’t even sure about the intended timelines of the scenes, or even the characters who appear and showcase one of their character traits. The sequences are just enough to hold your attention even as they appear to be independent episodes from the lives of characters, even as a bunch of them are tactfully introduced. This grammar of narration is largely different from the world building and characterization that we are used to. As a result, it is easy to be disconnected from the drama very early on in the film. But Maharaja is a game of patience, and patience will definitely pay-off over the course of its immaculate screenplay. 

The proceedings are engaging yet trivial to begin with when the protagonist wishes to file a report about ‘Lakshmi’. But as the case deepens, there are multiple twists and turns in the screenplay that organically join the events of the film that upto that point, were following a non-linear narrative. Slowly but surely, you do get an idea of what exactly is happening, even while there remains a clout of doubt on who the allies of the protagonist actually are. Make no mistake, the events are gory and violent even as the drama jumps timelines culminating into a fascinating interval block that definitely clears the picture to an extent. 

It is hard to predict the outcome of the story given its complex and layered screenplay structure. As a result, each time you seem to figure out the ‘mystery’, a new twist changes the dimension of the film. The entire screenplay that unfolds like a giant jigsaw puzzle is intelligent while successfully hoodwinking the viewers into believing a fact before making a U-Turn in the coming minutes. Here I must say that about two-thirds in the film, I could see the final twist of the film that eventually played out in the disturbing finale act. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I was invested in the journey more than anything even though there were minor liberties taken in the third act. The ending was emotional and extremely dark, just as I had predicted but it was the screenplay that was nothing short of a writing masterclass that indeed should be used as a case study in film school.

Dialogues, Music & Direction

The dialogues have different moods attached to it, just like the beats of the screenplay. Ranging from being playfully funny to being a little more serious as the film progresses, the lines are well written, not exactly massy as the title may suggest, but well within the realms of the drama. The BGM is pretty good and refreshingly so, does not overpower the drama at any juncture. In fact, it was easy for the BGM to give away unintentional hints to the viewers about what would follow next, but the BGM always remained well in check. The cinematography comprises of frames that are raw with no attempt to dilute the impact of the drama. As a result, gore and violence are searing byproducts of frames that wonderfully capture the intensity of the drama. The editing is exceptional particularly when you take the narrative structure in account. It is easy to say that the editing might be patchy but it was deliberately done, and that is what made the editing special. Director Nithilan Swaminathan does a tremendous job by controlling the narrative, adding just enough intrigue early on to keep you invested. The screenplay was a tedious task to execute but I felt that he did a tremendous job here. The direction was well controlled and quite brilliant.


The performances are outstanding by the ensemble cast. I shall be keeping my praises for a few cast members vague to avoid spoilers. Divya Bharathi as Selvi manages to impress despite a limited screentime. Vinod Sagar as Sabari, Arulldoss as Perumalsamy, and Singampuli as Nallasivam all have their moments to shine. Abhirami as Kokila and Mamta Mohandas as Aasifa are good and both make their presence felt. Natarajan Subramaniam as Varadharajan is exceptional and does a wonderful job. Sachana Namidass as Jothi is assertive but also has an interesting character arc that she portrays with perfection. Anurag Kashyap as Selvam was an interesting casting decision and he does a swell job here particularly in the finale act wherein the boundaries of his emotions transcended the screen. Vijay Sethupathi as Maharaja is back with a bang! His unassuming act here was the highlight of the film wherein slowly but surely he commands sympathy from his viewers. At no point through his stoic expressions does he give away some of his previoud actions, and thats what actually makes him a great actor. He us terrific and scores wonderfully in both combat and emotional scenes.


Boasting of solid performances, Maharaja is a simplistic story turned on its head by a screenplay writing masterclass that should be studied and savoured. The entire act is like a large jigsaw puzzle and makes for an intensely satisfying watch. Available in a theatre and Highly Recommended!

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