A scene from 'Maharaj'
A scene from 'Maharaj'

'Maharaj' movie review: Done and rusted

Where 'Maharaj' fails is how despite challenging the bhakt culture in the country through a classic good-versus-evil tale, it ends up taking a safe moral ground.

Set in pre-Independence India, Siddharth M Malhotra’s Maharaj is inspired by the famous Maharaj libel case of 1862, bringing focus on exploitation in the name of religion and devotion. It is based on the life and times of journalist and social reformer Karsandas Mulji, who challenged Jadunath Maharaj, a godman for sexually abusing his female devotees in the name of religion.

A worthy narrative in these censored times of cancel-culture, Maharaj has its heart in the right place as it goes on to highlight the first stirrings of the #MeToo movement, which would gather momentum a century-and-a-half later. Which is why it is no surprise when it faced the ire of the moral police and the Vaishnavite Pushtimarg sect that wanted a stay order on the film. In the past, the nefarious activities of Godmen such as Asaram Babu and Ram Rahim have dominated prime-time news. Where Maharaj fails is how despite challenging the bhakt culture in the country through a classic good-versus-evil tale, it ends up taking a safe moral ground.

The film also marks the low-key debut of Aamir Khan’s son Junaid, who brings Karsandas Mulji to life on screen. The narrative shows how Mulji’s fiancé Kishori (Shalini Pandey) has been a victim of Jadunath Maharaj or JJ’s (Jaideep Ahlwat) lust. Though he breaks off his engagement, Mulji’s regret transforms into revenge. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and he is helped by Viraaj (Sharvari Wagh), another victim, in bringing the Maharaj down.

Junaid may lack the screen persona of his famous father, but he certainly is a confident actor. He maintains his own when pitted against Ahlawat’s JJ. The Paatal Lok actor is wonderfully in sync with his character. From his amazing body transformation, his smirking visage to mouthing cheesy one-liners, he managed to evoke equal parts disgust and disdain for the character.

The film’s biggest limitation, however, is how its core message—religion can be the biggest divider and unifier—gets buried under a quintessentially Bollywood direction. Dialogue heavy, with the routine song and dance sequences, Maharaj gets crushed under its own weight.

Film: Maharaj

Director: Siddharth M Malhotra

Genre: Drama

Platform: Netflix

Language: Hindi

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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The New Indian Express
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