Cast: Dhanush, Sai Pallavi, Tovino Thomas
Director: Balaji Mohan
20 minutes into the sequel to Balaji Mohan's 2015 'don-com' Maari and I realised how much I enjoy the campy universe in which the two films exist. Come to think of it, these films must be what Johny Depp visualises if director Hari were to narrate the script of Gemini to him. So when we're introduced to Beeja (Tovino doing a Depp), who calls himself Thanatos (The God of Death), with "Kill Maari" scribbled all over his prison cell and "DEATH" (plain and simple) tattooed on his neck, I was grinning with excitement.
A scene later, Maari (the lovable don next door) gets a terrific intro scene where a kid takes on a burly thug when he comes looking for Maari. Axes and swords are slashed and Maari escapes unscathed…again, but this escape is special. It's the 100th time he has survived an attempt on his life and there's even a cake (a "re-birth day" cake?) that's cut on this special occasion. Also, do you get the mythical spin the film gives itself when Thanathos is pitted against a 'man that cannot be killed'?
We also get 'Araathu Anadhi' (a super-fun Sai Pallavi) who fits perfectly into the film's OTT universe. Did anyone imagine Maari 2 to have one of Tamil cinema's most progressive female characters of the year? Remember the line 'I'm A Loyal Husband, Giving You Royal Treatment And Your Daily Shoppin Is Guaranteed' from the first film? Now, that's not exactly a line that would impress Anandhi, the anti-loosu ponnu and an independent woman who refuses to look at life after marriage as a life in the kitchen. There's a lot of fun in seeing her confidently pursuing the man she loves in scenes that's not written to just gain cheap laughs. Also, the irony of a woman "strongly pursuing" one of Dhanush's characters isn't lost on me.
As long as the film sticks to its excesses, it remains thoroughly enjoyable and that even extends to the second half when the film morphs into a clever re-imagining of a somewhat popular 90's film. I think Baasha it was called. There's even a terrific tribute to the Rajinikanth-starrer set in a theatre which even brings back the highlight from the first film.
But the problems arise soon after. Following the Baasha template requires a lot of curbing and controlling of the lead's explosive personality and that's a lot to take away from a film that relies almost entirely on its characters. It's not a film that can afford to keep the Lennon glasses away from Dhanush for too long. And this issue extends to Tovino's performance as well. These portions in the second half would have remained just as engaging had the crazy villain maintained the "two notches higher" pitch of the film. But he tries to bring realism (for the lack of a better word) to his performance when we're looking for the opposite. Also, I can't remember another villain that praises the hero so much.
Of course, the film does manage to return to form but a lot of time has passed until then and that's when we realise how Maari 2 has repeated a lot of the mistakes of the original. The effort that has gone in to create such likable characters doesn't seem to have gone in to the writing, which remains predicable when it's not inconsistent. Why spent so much time building a world when you're going to remove your characters from it for so long? Why try so hard to make sense out of everything when it's the 'non-sense' of the two films that we love?