Mahaveeryar Movie Review: Nivin Pauly and Asif Ali lend gravitas to a wild imaginative satire
The music in Mahaveeryar is the biggest takeaway as the songs feel rooted in the world of the narrative.
Star Cast : Nivin Pauly, Asif Ali and Shanvi Srivastava.
Director: Abrid Shine
Review by Arjun Menon
Mahaveeryar is the latest entry into the quirky, oftentimes tricky world of Nivin Pauly-Abrid Shine's earlier cinematic collaborations. The film works as a well-oiled genre blended with elements of the period movie laced with the design aesthetics of a social drama through the prism of memory piece-like structure for the most part. Abrid Shine deconstructs the common ethos surrounding the expansiveness of the period drama with his trademark realism. However, the end result is an undercooked meal devoid of discernible flavour or punch.
Mahaveeryar is designed as a story of a free-spirited Saint Apoorvanandan ( Nivin Pauly ) living in the present times, and a deceptive warrior from the past Veerabadhran, both put on trial from different timelines for two crimes that they have been accused of in their times. This might seem like a rather conventional narrative structure as two distinct narrative threads often mimic a parallel momentum. However, Abrid Shine distills the whole courtroom drama setup of the two halves to make it a single entity devoid of the constraints of maintaining timeline logic anyway whatsoever. The puzzle of the stolen idol in the current timeline is juxtaposed with a very severe case of sexual exploitation in the older timeline, involving the king, his second in command, and a village girl.
This might sound like a very interesting central premise on paper but the treatment loses its novelty somewhere along the second half when both the timelines merge and the characters start interacting in the confined space of the courtroom. The issue that the film faces largely falls back to the often confusing pitch and tonal variations that the screenplay goes through without explaining the motive of sudden changes in the rules of the story world.
Abrid Shine who has based his highly imaginative screenplay on a short story by acclaimed writer M. Mukundan seems to be too much in awe of the central allegory of the tale that he parts ways, with the idiosyncrasies of his storytelling impulses. The quirkiness of the weighty theme is lost somewhere in the second half as the tone never settles us for the ultimate dramatic segues and clever genre manipulations thrown at us in quick succession.
Instead, we get a series of unintentionally funny vignettes of the courtroom proceedings, oftentimes bordering on laugh-out-loud cringy theatrics despite the dense issue being interpreted through the device of satire. Nivin Pauly does well with whatever little he is offered yet the writing ties him down to the mysterious enigma trope whose presence in both timelines, is treated as the character equivalent of a person who time jumps from one multiverse to the next, in today’s post-MCU storytelling parlance.
Asif Ali gets the more expressive role and he comes up with ways to strike a balance between the honourable and deceitful gaze of the man, torn between duty and love. Shanvi Srivastava is restricted to a narrative guise, oftentimes meant as a token figure for female liberty in the changing world of institutional and authoritative apathy towards survivor’s rights and the whole new definition of assault.
The actress is put to task, as the writing forces her to be a certain idea of womanhood, more than a living, breathing person with her own decisions and thoughts on life. Shanvi goes all out on a severely underwritten part yet looks convincing on screen. The rest of the supporting cast, with the likes of Siddique and Lalu Alex, brings in a lot of comic relief to an otherwise focused narrative packed with dense lines and stagey monologues.
The filmmaking is very much in broad strokes with no element of the clever subtleness of Shine’s earlier films like 1983 and Action Hero Biju. The writing, despite the vision of the merging story worlds, is pretty one note and never lives up to the immense scope of the existing central idea. Abrid Shine along with his cinematographer Chandru paints a very distinct world of the period drama and covers the glassy mansions with kingly gloss and the visual style is made to look easy on the eye, even in the courtroom scenes with creative uses of colour schemes and visual cues and camera moves.
The music is the biggest takeaway as the songs feel rooted in the world of the narrative and the background score by Ishaan Chhabra on his debut Malayalam album, manages to sustain the intrigue. The film is a cautionary tale imbibed with a lot of creative decisions, that stick and some that don't. Many throwaway lines calling for freedom of expression, consent, the duty of the ruling class towards the people, and the transactional nature of justice are all crammed in one commendable yet flawed exercise in storytelling innovation, that never sticks the landing.
We get a quarreling couple towards the initial half in court for their alimony settlement, a classic Abrid Shine creation, right out of his playbook for Action Hero Biju. Their arc revolves around the husband's attempt at making his ex-wife’s life hard by handing over an alimony settlement of twenty-five thousand rupees in a bundle of coins, consisting of ones and twos’. At the end of Mahaveeryar, I was tempted to look at the end credits to see some sort of closure for them and the constable entrusted with counting all the coins and confirming the amount before the end of the court day, rather than the expansive yet dull attempt at broad satire lead by Apporvanandan and Veerabadhran.
Check out the film's trailer below: