Cast: Mammootty, Anusree, Suraj, Siddique, Jai
One of the signatures of Pokkiri Raja, the 2009 first part to Madhura Raja, was its hero introduction scene. Almost an hour into the film, a fallen Paravai Munniama signals the arrival of Raja (Mammootty), as he makes his entry in a blue BMW, followed by dozens of white Innovas. Up until then, a Malayalam film hero could at max afford a threefour-car entourage. But with Pokkiri Raja, we had, at least in terms of conveyance, redefined the hero introduction. Madhura Raja too sets us up for a mega intro. But there’s one tiny problem. A significant amount of time has been spent setting up the story that takes place in the islets of Kuttanad. What do you do with all those Innovas in a place with no major roads? Fear not, for Madhura Raja finds a way. He leaves the cars behind and instead rents hundreds (literally) of speed boats to make his entry. It really is a sight to behold…the kind director Hari orgasms about. It’s not the explosion of the OTTness that makes this scene work. It’s the fact that Madhura Raja himself talks about the logistics of it all, including its cost and where he has parked his cars. In other words, Madhura Raja knows that it’s not meant to be taken too seriously.
Much like the first part, it’s these self-referential winks that make Madhura Raja a fun watch. In a sense, it spoofs the hyper-violent Madurai movies that had come to replace the idea of big budget films, even in Kerala. Which is why Jai’s casting, Subramaniyapuram head bob an all, isn’t accidental. Like the first part, it becomes easy to heighten the dosage when the hero is said to hail from Madurai (he even gets a handlebar moustache). But Madhura Raja goes a step further. It doesn’t settle for spoofing the idea of masala Tamil cinema alone. Madhura Raja wants to spoof Tamil Nadu politics as well. So the reason why Raja can’t get involved in a physical scuffle isn’t that he’s hiding his violent past, ALA Baasha or Theri. It’s because he has just started his own political party (The Then Indian Makkal Katchi) and has an image to uphold for the election commission. He is not only the party’s working president but also its permanent secretary. And of course, his freebies include anything from bicycles to umbrellas, grinders to bags of rice.
But does that make Madhura Raja a political satire? Only for about twenty minutes. It’s just not a film that picks a lane. It begins with the issue of hooch liquor finding its way into the State. But that doesn’t sound like it would affect everyone so the film places a school next one of these bars. Minutes later, the bar gets shut and suddenly the film’s grouse is with communal politicians. But wait, what about the villain’s organ stealing business? Aargh! In Raja’s own broken English, the screenplay is “full of matters and problems.”
This could have been particularly irritating in another film but here, you’re really only waiting for either the next major action block or the next major comedy scene. But can we also pardon the offensive jokes as easily? Not really. Listen to this: early on, the character played by Aju Varghese makes a joke about him wanting to enslave a white man because his grandfather was punished by one of them. What did his grandfather do? Oh, he just raped a white woman, that’s all. And later, after the SUNNY LEONE ITEM NUMBER, her character is said to use #MeToo as a ploy to honeytrap a corrupt MLA. But hey, at least the item number is a part of the screenplay right. Or am I a fool for expecting nuance in Udayakrishna’s writing?
But even this could have been overlooked as ignorance had the film remained completely entertaining. Somewhere during the film’s political satire phase, it begins to wobble and it never really gets our entire attention after that. Do the actions scenes work? Hmmm, it’s both a yes and a no. Like in Puli Murugan it’s a man versus animal (dogs mainly) confrontation scene that keeps things interesting but there’s a catch. Why not let the dogs out on Mammootty too when it was okay for lesser good guys? These scenes are also extremely violent, a tad too much for the UA rating.
What about Mammootty then? It isn’t anything he hasn’t done before but there’s a shot that proves why he is who he is. A death has just occurred and you’re expecting the film to finally rest Raja’s broken English gag for some pure Malayalam. But no, they don’t. Even amidst all the pain, Raja still speaks in his faulty English. What was the biggest joke in the film until then suddenly doesn’t sound so funny. One wishes this kind of writing had extended to the rest of the film as well. In the end, all you’re looking to do is ask the film, “Why so serious?”.