Maari 2: Sai Pallavi and some spirited dialogues struggle to keep this sequel afloat

In the aftermath of having endured 2.0’s lazy, rehashed dialogues from its original (Enthiran), it is somewhat assuaging to note that Maari 2’s dialogue-writing shows quite a bit of imagination and taste. It uses all the impactful dialogues from the 2015 film, but doesn’t resort to using them as they were. My most favourite Dhanush moment in this film is when he swishes his finger, and just as he’s about to say, “Senjuruven”, checks himself and says something else instead — something more endearing that takes into account the changed man that he is. You, no doubt, noted that I qualified this scene as my most favourite Dhanush moment, not my favourite Maari 2 moment. Well, that’s on account of one Ms. Sai Pallavi (who plays a character called ‘Araathu’ Anandhi) whose charms make it quite difficult to focus on anybody else. She’s refreshingly uninhibited, and yes, as has been said about her many hundreds of times before, real. And boy, can she dance. Dhanush is among our better dancers, but even he seems to be huffing and puffing next to Sai Pallavi’s unrestrained dancing. Good luck taking your eyes off her, as she does the sort of ‘flooring’ only our most acclaimed dancers are known for. It’s only appropriate that one Mr. Prabhu Dheva was roped in to choreograph the dance for Rowdy Baby.

Let it not be lost on you that in many such songs in the past, the heroine usually only gets ‘graceful’ moves, steps carefully created to accentuate ‘feminine grace’. Anandhi, here, couldn’t care less what you think about how she looks when she dances. When she sulks about Maari not showing interest in her, Sani (Robo Shankar, who’s quite funny in the film), advises her to be more demure and walk and talk as attractive women are supposed to. But Anandhi isn’t your average ‘loosu ponnu’. She herself says as much and adds, “Naan mass-u ponnu.” These are signs, I hope, of at least some people in the industry paying attention to criticism over its portrayal of women. But clearly, there’s a long way to go, given this same film is quite happy in its attempts to create laughs out of a dark woman and her supposed lack of attractiveness. Baby steps, I guess?

Maari 2
Director: Balaji Mohan
Cast: Dhanush, Sai Pallavi, Robo Shankar, Tovino Thomas

And yet, for all of Sai Pallavi’s charms, let it also not be forgotten that her character’s reasons for circling Maari aren’t exactly novel. Our yesteryear heroines typically fell in love when the hero protected their modesty. Here, it’s someone else’s. And yet, Sai Pallavi, in playing this time-tested part of a hero-besotted heroine, somehow imbues her character with self-respect. She’s the spell that distracts you from seeing the big vacuum at the heart of this film. In a sense, she does the same to Maari, as he momentarily, willingly loses his violent identity. But of course, what Baasha is to Manickam, Maari — who, interestingly, is an autodriver in his reformed avatar — is to Maariappan. However, unlike in the former film, the return is hardly as cathartic, as ‘mass’y here.

Maari 2 isn’t all about the Anandhi-Maari relationship unfortunately, and each time, the film switches to telling you about Maari’s enemies, it suffers. The villain is a big joke. His name is Gangadhar (Tovino Thomas), and he calls himself Thanatos, after the Greek god of death. For some reason, no other character seems to find this funny. I’m not sure if this name and his constant self-referencing seemed narcissistic and deep on paper, but in the film, it’s simply funny, despite Balaji Mohan’s attempts to trace his transformation through a rushed flashback. He’s a loony man who keeps calling himself the ‘god of death’. A rowdy, when talking about him, comments, “Avan apdi dhaan edhavadhu English la penaathitrupaaan.” I don’t believe there’s a more accurate description of his character in the film. At one point, he even channels his inner Major Sundarrajan and translates for your benefit: “Naan saavukku kadavul.” Sure, there may be no ‘loosu ponnu’ here, but it’s not an exaggeration to call Gangadhar the ‘loosu paiyan’ of this film. The villain in the original film played by Vijay Yesudas was charmless, but at least you didn’t have to suppress a laugh every time he appeared.

However, there are hints of some genuinely good writing every once in a while. I quite liked it that one incident in Maari’s life creates, at once, his most dangerous enemy in Gangadhar, and the love of his life in Anandhi. There’s a sense of how interconnected people are, and how one person’s actions can affect another in unexpected ways, but for such explorations to really bear fruit, the film’s plot and its negative characters needed to be more imaginative.

A big problem I had with Maari was the romanticisation of its rowdy protagonist, and while part of that remains, Balaji Mohan tries really hard to explain why his lead character isn’t just an average bully. Maari has much respect for women, it gets established. When one sexually abused woman utters that time-tested ‘Yaaru enna kalyanam pannipaanga?’, he rubbishes the idea and points out that she’s not an object. Much like the don of all dons — Don Corleone — Maari too is against drugs. The film also attempts to explain why he’s the way he is, with a fleeting line from him about how he wasn’t the recipient of love, growing up. I enjoyed such simple, effective forays into Maari’s past, and it’s a reminder to those making sequels that it doesn’t hurt to look backwards in time when writing scripts.

All that is flavouring though. Maari 2, unfortunately, isn’t efficient at being a mass film, its chief objective. Its jokes work, its love angle’s all right, its heroine is great, but where it matters most — the villain, the conflict, the subplots — it comes a cropper. Dhanush’s six-pack abs at the end just serve as a dim, wistful reminder of a way better mass film, made 11 years ago, in which he first dared to do so.

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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