Magamuni’s screenplay is structured like a jigsaw puzzle, as most thrillers are wont to be. However, Shanthakumar, who has written and directed the film, is in no hurry to give us all the pieces immediately. One of the film’s defining factors is its unhurried pace. However, though Magamuni takes its time to spin the web around its characters, the screenplay and the setting maintain the intensity. We first see Maga (Arya), a taxi driver who is struggling to make ends meet. But is he? After a while, the film cuts to Muni (also Arya), who seems to be the antithesis of Maga. But are they different people? Or is it just the same person at different times?
The craft in Magamuni is splendid. Santhakumar and editor Sabu Joseph piece together a terrific narrative that maintains mood and intrigue. Split into segments of sorts, the editing pattern ensures that almost every section ends with a question which acts as a statement. Maga and Muni are constantly framed in constricted spaces and there is so much drama in these frames. Thaman makes an exciting comeback with a chilling score. It sets up the dark, brooding universe of the story quite effectively, even when the narrative is still teasing us with reveals.
The individual threads in Magamuni give a lot to chew on. Deepa (Mahima Nambiar) asks Muni where his god is. A woman from an oppressed community, at one place, wonders if her adopted son would have had a better life had he ended up in someone else’s care. Earlier, Muni delivers a terrific monologue about the intersectionality between bravery and caste (hint: There is none). And in another instance, Maha talks about the effects of karma and the brunt of a legacy that each man carries. All of these make for potent moments individually. But when juxtaposed together for the final reveal, it doesn’t create a holistic, cohesive picture that one would expect all these questions to. The final act feels rushed. It almost seems like Santhakumar realised that he might not have the time to say whatever he needs to, at the same pace that he has maintained so far. And Magamuni, a poetic visual film so far, morphs into one that needs voiceovers to explain what’s going on.
I quite liked the performances in Magamuni, where the supporting characters give tough competition for the leads. After Naan Kadavul, Magamuni is probably the first film to use the intensity of Arya’s eyes. The actor gives a measured performance, tackling two avatars with equal composure for the most part. Mahima Nambiar gives a nonchalantly effective performance, even with restricted screen time. I wish Gomathi (Kadaikutty Singam-fame Deepa) and Viji (Indhuja) were sketched with some nuance as well. In a film where most characters have the restraint of reality, these women stick out with their cinematic drama.
Magamuni is one of those films where the sum is, unfortunately, lesser than its parts. While the film does manage to hold the tension until the end, you walk out wondering if that was all. That question makes me put it in the space between a good film and a great film. And that sometimes makes all the difference.
Cast: Arya, Mahima Nambiar, Indhuja
Rating: 3.5 stars
(This review originally appeared on cinemaexpress.com)