My pick this week is the Tamil blockbuster Master on Amazon Prime Video. First, a confession. I saw the Hindi dub of Master when the film released theatrically. Too much was lost in translation. But I'm a great lover of masala movies and a recent convert to the cult of the superstar Vijay. So I decided to give it one more shot – I watched it on Amazon Prime Video, in Tamil with English subtitles and this was a much more enjoyable experience.
Vijay plays the titular Master. His name is JD. He is the dean of student affairs at a college. The students adore him but the administration dislikes him. Because JD is a drunk. Post 6 pm, he's incoherent. But before that he's a lovable, laid-back, inspiring teacher. The first hour of the film focuses on JD's life in the college but then he gets shifted to a government juvenile observation home. The boys here, from the youngest to the oldest, are being used by a dreaded criminal Bhavani to operate his vast empire. At first, JD has no intentions of trying to reform or even teach them. He's happy to snooze and booze through his term. But when he understands the extent of the damage that Bhavani is inflicting, he becomes a man on a mission and goes on a warpath against him.
Bhavani is played by the terrific Vijay Sethupathi. The film actually begins with his backstory. Writer-Director Lokesh Kanagaraj understands that the more powerful the villain, the more his hero will shine. He skillfully constructs the myth of Bhavani. Bhavani's fists are lethal weapons. Through the film, we see him kill people indiscriminately, some by simply punching them. Bhavani doesn't drink and he wears Hindu, Christian and Muslim amulets around his neck. But there is nothing good about him. He keeps the boys in a haze of alcohol and drugs so that they do his bidding. When they don't, he kills them without hesitation. Sethupathi plays Bhavani with a menacing charm. In the climax, when Bhavani punches JD, I was actually afraid for him.
Lokesh has a keen understanding of the vocabulary of masala. He builds a terrific entry scene for Vijay and then continues to pander to his outsize persona but also add new twists. JD has no backstory. In one scene he says, "It's not important why I started drinking, it's important why I stopped." The film has a heroine – Charulatha played by Malavika Mohanan – but there is no love story. JD goes up against Bhavani because he says, I have no one to call my own. In one of my favorite scenes, JD declares, "Bhavani says he will kill people who like me but millions like me," which is a clever hat tip to Vijay's stardom. The music by Anirudh, especially 'Kutti Story', is terrific.
Be warned that Master is almost three hours long. The length is punishing but the beauty of streaming is that you don't have to do it all at one sitting. You can see the film on Amazon Prime Video.