(This article contains spoilers)
Names such as JD (Vijay) and Bhavani (Vijay Sethupathi) first appeared in Ram Gopal Varma's directorial debut Siva (1989). Although JD wasn't the chosen name of the hero in the Telugu movie, Bhavani was surely the name of the villain (played by Raghuvaran).
In Thuppakki (2012) and Kaththi (2014), the hero and villain do not come into direct contact until the interval point. While the "I am waiting!" phrase was uttered somewhat as a murmur in Thuppakki, it was exaggerated to the level of parody by Thalapathy himself in Kaththi and Sarkar (2018).
Director Lokesh Kanagaraj reverses that brilliant idea and makes Bhavani tell the hero that he's waiting to meet him, for a change. This is a deftly written scene since the protagonist is the one who calls up his nemesis to threaten him, whereas in the other movies, the antagonists do the honours. Sometimes, shaking up things for fun can take a scene to its zenith.
Whenever a star film includes an element from the past, it serves as a platform for a fan-boy moment. Director Karthik Subbaraj did that in Petta (2019), starring Rajinikanth, where he embellished the film with the superstar's dialogues, gestures and Rajini-isms. Karthik can take credit for coming up with the right scenes and situations for his lead, known for his stylistic persona.
Here, Lokesh makes JD play kabaddi with a bunch of bullies. And as the 'Master' enters the field, composer Anirudh cranks up the music to match the euphoria surrounding Vijay's 2004 movie Ghilli. Even when Das (Arjun Das), the gang leader of the bullies, warns JD that the rules are going to be different with regard to the sport they're playing, it doesn't bother him. And, in a matter of minutes, he teaches Das and his minions a lesson by beating them to a pulp for hurting kids.
Vijay pulling the collar towards his mouth in the action segments of Master is not a new quirk. It's a modified version of what he did in Thirumalai (2003), where he played a mechanic. There, he magically drew a cigarette from his collar every once in a while. But it's a different world we're living in now and he isn't seen much with cigarettes on-screen nowadays. There are exceptions, never the norm.
Also, in Master, Vijay pops in chewing gums instead of blowing smoke rings.
Vijay, like other stars who belong to his club, is keenly aware of the impact that his political statements can make in the state of Tamil Nadu. Although he has largely stayed away from opposing ideologies in the public sphere, he has never hesitated to ridicule the government in his films.
JD, while explaining the differences between listening and hearing, says, "Students don't listen to their teachers. Teachers don't listen to their students. Children don't listen to their parents. Parents don't listen to their children." And here comes the cherry on the cake, "The government doesn't listen to the people." The saddest part about this cheeky line, however, is Prime eliminating the word "government" from the subtitles.
In another scene, JD wonders aloud about the loopholes in governmental policies when it comes to the selling of liquor to minors. When theatres aren't permitted to sell tickets to children for A-rated movies, how can liquor and cigarettes be sold to them, he questions. These dialogues are again broad political statements that pierce like an arrow.
One of the recurring jokes in Master is the questions JD is asked about his backstory. 'Why did JD become an alcoholic' is something even we wonder about while watching the film. He does answer the question, but it changes each time. At first, while talking to the staff in college, he starts saying he once travelled to America to profess his love for a girl who later dies. This of course is a reference to the iconic love story Vaaranam Aayiram, directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon and starring Suriya.
A while later, he then goes to tell us that both he and his lover exchanged letters from across the country without meeting each other. A sly joke about why she knits a sweater for a man who works in a tile factory is also factored in. This is a hilarious hat tip to the plot of the hit Ajith (Vijay's "arch rival") film Kadhal Kottai (1996), directed by Agathiyan.
While the Titanic joke at the end might be obvious to all given the film's popularity, there's also a 'real' backstory JD gets. While in the car with Malavika Mohanan's character, the owner of JD's college (Nassar) tells her that his drinking woes started when his beloved professor passed away. It might not obvious at first but the professor's name is said to be Selvam (or Dr Selvam), the character Kamal Haasan plays in KS Sethumadhavan's Nammavar. In the age of mega crossovers, how cool is the idea of incorporating the death of a superstar's super character as the reason for a character's drinking issues today?
(With inputs by Vishal Menon)