Mahira
Language: Kannada
Cast: Virginia Rodrigues, Chaithra Achar, Raj B. Shetty, Balaji Manohar
Director: Mahesh Gowda

A brash young woman yells at a customer and sends him out of the café for complaining about the food served to him. Her mother (named Maya; played by Virginia Rodrigues), the actual person who runs the beach cafe, tells her not to behave rudely with customers. But Aadya (young woman, played by Chaithra Achar) won’t listen to any of it. She argues that the customer registered his grievances only after emptying his plate. It’s a nice scene that comes together well in the beginning of the film itself.

The mother, whom Aadya calls by her name and not by the standard words, “Amma,” “Mummy,” always has a look on her face that tells you she’s worried about her teenaged daughter’s temper. Aadya doesn’t hesitate to give her male classmates a black eye every once in a while for mocking her. Maya, too, doesn’t try to talk sense into her by giving her a lecture on what girls should, and shouldn’t, do in college, or outside of it. After all, you get an idea that Aadya is only gaining these traits from her mother. But there’s no evidence to prove it in the breezy introduction section that occupies almost twenty minutes of the screen time. You haven’t been showed the other side of Maya, where she uses guns and knives, like a trained assassin yet. (The trailer revealed some bits of it, so, I was waiting to see what this docile act was all about.)  

Also, remember the word, “evidence,” for the movie heavily revolves around that term. Mahira begins to work like a time bomb the minute Maya’s real name is uttered. She’s a suspect in a big case where men in ironed shirts and trousers shout that she’s a threat to national security. This happened last week in the Tamil film Kadaram Kondan. There, Vikram played a middle-aged gangster (he was an undercover agent and a double agent, too); and, here, Maya is again an agent who has gone rogue. Unfortunately, in that film, the screenplay didn’t delve into the facts behind the decisions that Vikram’s character took. And that was a major letdown, for you couldn’t understand his motivations for doing so many things. But Mahesh Gowda, the director of this Kannada film, doesn’t make that mistake.

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There are plenty of reasons for her to take on the name Maya and run a café on a nondescript beach. They’re periodically narrated to Aadya, who’s impatient now. She doesn’t know anything about her mother’s past. Who’s this new Maya, she seems to wonder! The audience might be in a similar position, as well, for it doesn’t cut to a flashback immediately to take us through Maya’s journey. Aadya slips into the rear seat as the important segments involving her are scattered throughout the narrative. Hence, through her lateral absence – and stock-character-like tendencies – Maya becomes the sole hero.  

For her part, though, Rodrigues does a splendid job. Her screen presence is unlike any other action star (Malashri, or the recent entrants, Ragini Dwivedi and Haripriya). Her no-nonsense avatar sits perfectly on her shoulders. It’s hard to believe that she’s making her debut in Kannada cinema with this action thriller. She gets all the whistle-worthy moments without any of the vacuous aura surrounding them. And it’s really cool to watch a woman break the bones of men who’ve arrived to kill her and not spit a single punch dialogue, while she’s at it. Why would she need somebody’s help to talk about her prowess when everybody in the Indian Intelligence Department (don’t ask; that’s the name of the organization that Maya used to work with once upon a time) keeps calling her the best agent? Sometimes, depending on the situation, she’s also referred to as dangerous.

Oh, there’s another character that you need to keep an eye on, in this cat-and-mouse game. It’s Prathap (Raj B. Shetty), the agent who’s assigned to nab Maya. In what can be called the film’s funniest sequence, he arrests two fraudsters by making them listen to his plan of having a hand-to-hand combat, instead of a shootout, because he’s outnumbered. But, as soon as they drop their guns, however, he pulls out his weapon in a flash of a second and remarks, “Do I look like a person who can fight?” It’s the kind of scene that’ll make you believe that much thought has gone into the making of this movie. And, Shetty, as always, proves that he’s here to stay for a long innings. Take a good look at him when he starts to put the pieces together in the third act. There’s not an iota of the melancholic goofiness he displayed in Ondu Motteya Kathe.

Even then, if you have watched a ton of thrillers, you’ll know where the red herrings are hanging, and who the culprits are before they start to show up one after another. The clever little surprises in the climax, concerning Maya and Aadya, don’t make any impact, since the tension of being on the edge-of-the-seat has already evaporated. Gowda is only taking his time to tie the loose ends and there’s nothing exhilarating about it whatsoever. But, with a cast and crew that are mostly comprised of novices, Mahira makes a point that rings louder than what Kadaram Kondan could manage. And, come to think of it, the Tamil thriller had an A-list producer – and actor – on-board!

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