Madonne Ashwin’s sophomore directorial Maaveeran is a unique and satirical take on the prevailing housing board issue in Tamil Nadu. People who dwell in a slum are made to relocate to a multi-storey apartment in the false hopes of better living conditions in the Sivakarthikeyan film. Among them is the film’s protagonist, Sathya, who works as a cartoonist in a daily newspaper. However, as someone who tries to avoid problems, he doesn’t muster up the courage to question the authorities. This internal battle that Sathya experiences is central to the plot, says Ashwin in a conversation with Film Companion.
“The basic idea of the film was to bring out the internal conflict. Sathya, who is passive and who keeps denying the fact that he has to fight for his people’s rights, has to break and come out of it. It is similar to breaking the fourth wall, which can be seen in movies like Stranger than Fiction (2006) and Ober (2006),” he shares.
The director adds that Sathya was initially not meant to be a professional cartoonist. Elaborating on the different ideas he had, Ashwin says, “There was a need to tell the story in a crisp manner and comics seemed to be the most feasible option. Initially, I planned on making Sathya’s profession to be a comic book seller who sketches cartoons for passion. In that draft, Aditi Shankar’s Nila used to live in the same community as him. The second idea was the one where he works as a cartoonist in a newspaper. The second idea was even more interesting.” Maaveeran, which sees Sathya battle a persistent portending voice, is replete with laugh-out-loud moments. Infusing satire into drama is nothing new to Ashwin, who made his debut with Yogi Babu-starrer Mandela (2021), which won him the National Award for Best Director. Ashwin says that it took him 10 years to sign his first film. “I had all the time and space to research and develop my first film. I wrote 12 drafts to finalise the script, and we had 9 drafts for its treatment. Though Mandela was well-received, I missed its theatrical experience (the film had a direct release on television and Netflix). On the other hand, Maaveeran’s big release in the theatres helped me analyse and learn the audience's reaction to every scene.”
Besides its satirical tone, Madonne Ashwin’s Mandela and Maaveeran share many other similarities: both climax sequences revolved around elections, addressed social issues, emphasised the importance of votes, etc. “I am realising the similarities only now. I should have avoided this. But this is something I have learned and will keep in mind while working on my next film.” The filmmaker doesn’t want audiences look at these elements as his signature style. “My idea is to not have any signature trademark. I do not want to repeat any elements. Instead, I want to keep trying new things.”
While the film mostly received positive responses, many found its high-voltage climax to be exaggerated. Ashwin acknowledges that their idea couldn’t be conveyed properly. “In the climax, when the voice tells Sathya that he’d move front, he would move back. Similarly, when it predicts that he’d escape, Sathya would fight back. This moment, when he starts doing things beyond what that voice says, is where the voice’s dialogue comes true, “Andha nodi avan Maaveran aaga maarinaan (He became a hero).” Everyone is safe after the fight in the climax but when a girl is caught alone in the building, he recollects the remaining part of the dialogue, “Than uyiraiye kuduthu makkalai kaapaatrinaan.” He realises he has to sacrifise his life and save her. So even when his mother stops him, he says, “Idhu en kadhai amma, naan thaan mudikanum (This is my story, I have to finish it). That’s what the whole climax is about.” The climax was intended to be more about the end of the comic and less about a heroic act, Ashwin says. “That’s how we wrote the script. In the end, he looks up at the voice, as if telling him that he has finished the story. But this idea was not conveyed clearly. I shouldn’t be sitting here, explaining what I meant to convey. I should have made it more clear, both in terms of writing and filmmaking; this is one of my key learnings from the film.”