Maara review: A grounded remake of Charlie with quite a bit of heart

There’s another quest for a soulmate in this film, one undertaken by Vellaiyan (a wonderful Mouli), one that is later taken over by Maara.

Published: 09th January 2021 09:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2021 09:01 AM   |  A+A-

A still from 'Maara'

A still from 'Maara'

Express News Service

If you didn’t know that Maara is the remake of the Malayalam film, Charlie, the opening shot of fireflies fluttering about is a strong hint of the magic contained within the universe of this film. Shortly, you see little Paaru in rapt attention, as a nun narrates to her the story of a soldier who’s travelling across seas and jungles in a quest to find his soul. This is pretty much the story of this film as well, as Paaru (Shraddha Srinath) grows up to find herself in a similar quest for her soul, well, soulmate, in Maara (Madhavan). There’s another quest for a soulmate in this film, one undertaken by Vellaiyan (a wonderful Mouli), one that is later taken over by Maara.

The film is a reinforcement of the power of stories, of the stories each of our lives are. This is why there are multiple characters with their own short stories, including those of Selvi (Abhirami), the sex worker, and Kani (Sshivada), the guilt-ridden doctor. The implication is that no one story is necessarily more important than another. I got the sense that Maara doesn’t think of himself as a hero or a saviour, even if those around him seem to believe that. He’s merely a tool, a person who breezes through life hoping to repay the extraordinary help that Vellaiyan has done to him.

I loved this touch because shorn of it, Maara, the character, could have felt idealistic and unrelatable — which would have gone against the point of the film itself. This way, there’s a reason for why Maara is the way he is, why he can’t afford to stay at one place for too long. I quite enjoyed that Madhavan plays this character without a sanctimonious flavour — and more importantly, in a way that shows that Maara isn’t above vulnerability. There’s no moral superiority in that ascetic laughter of his — which probably can be thought of as even the desperate attempt of an unhappy man to be happy, chained as he is to his lifelong quest. The film is almost a homage to art — and the dreaminess inherent in it.

This can be spotted throughout the film: In the pretty wall murals, in the art plastered across and drawn all over the walls of Maara’s home, in the designer kites, in the sketch book and its pencil illustrations, in the sculptures… hell, even in the blotches of Maara’s acid-wash hoodies. There’s a call through this film, through its characters, to refuse to fall into the trap of mundanity and indifference, into routine and repetition. Maara is pretty much the film equivalent of ‘Follow the white rabbit’.

That’s perhaps why during a conversation between Maara and a thief (Alexander Babu), you can see a neon sign in the background that reads ‘White Rabbit’. The usual response to such a call is to cite a lack of financial security, and while that is a reason to be empathetic about — especially given the enviably cushy work-free existence Paaru seems to be leading in thi s f i lm—we could also note how Maara, who’s hardly a wealthy man (as a thief realises), makes the choice to get by, winning and returning favours in his small community. Maara, the film, suggests that perhaps, just perhaps, his way of life could also come down to the courage to choose to step away from the norm.

Realise the magic of life in you, it seems to be saying… notice the almost mystical beauty of existence. It’s also likely that this is why the film’s many shots are lit as they are, with many faces often aglow, as though in the presence of a halo. This is why the coincidences in this film become palatable. The central idea at the heart of this film is of two lonely souls in search of each other. Take note of that inexplicable attraction little Paaru feels as she sees a speeding train from within her bus. Or take note of that instinctive smile from Maara as he steps into his room, a room that Paaru has lived in briefly. In such a film, coincidences are to be thought of as divine providence, or as one character, when speaking about Maara says, “destiny”.

Another likens him to a mythical character, Santa Claus, while commenting on Maara’s habit of sudden appearances that usually result in joy to whoever he meets. Maara himself, as he does many times in this film, underplays this notion that he’s a mystical being. It’s his understanding — and you will see it from his eyes when he’s engaged in conversation with every single character — that each of us is magical, as are our stories. In this film with performances that range from great to over-the-top, I loved Mouli in particular, who plays Vellaiya, an old man consumed by his unrequited love. Watch him in that scene with Paaru as he brings to her an old photo of his beloved, Meenakshi, but hesitates after seeing her be so charmed by photos of Maara instead.

Watch him in another scene with Paaru as she tells him about Meenakshi; watch his eyes grow wide in surprise, and almost well up under the weight of decades of mourning. Ghibran’s background music and Thamarai’s evocative lyrics add so much to such scenes as well. It’s wonderful that films like Maara are able to offer elderly characters like Mouli’s as much purpose and are able to see them for the individuals that they are, instead of simply as a crutch for a lead character. Of course, much of this credit must go to the original film, Charlie. In a world that is in a tearing hurry, at a time when films and stories are designed to be rapid for fear of making audiences impatient, films like Maara come as a welcome relief.

In this film, at least two important exchanges — between Vellaiya and Paaru, and later, between Maara and Kani — happen as wood slowly burns to ember, as tender faces are lit by the warm glow of a fireplace. It’s for such moments that I’ll remember this film, even if some inconsistent performances and some synthetic moments stop it from being truly great. Nevertheless, it’s a film that has heart and that encourages empathy towards those around us, and if possible, to note that magicality doesn’t need to be thought of an otherworldly trait, if only we cared to pay more attention to the beauty around us.

Director: Dhilip Kumar
Cast: Madhavan, Shraddha Srinath, Mouli
Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video
Rating: 3/5

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