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Mariselvaraj’s earlier films ‘Pariyerum Perumal’ and ‘Karnan’ hit the spot; his recent criticism of Kamal’s blockbuster Devarmagan has evoked support as well as denunciation.  These factors have made up the hype about his latest film Maamannan.

Has it really measured up to expectations?

The leitmotif of casteist forces vs subalterns gets yet another treatment in Maamannan which has a lot to appreciate and denounce.

Based on a true story?
The plot revolves around the MLA of a reserved constituency who cannot act independently as the party’s district secretary pulls the strings.  The MLA’s son, aware of his father’s political subservience, distances himself from his father after an earlier cruel incident led him to snap ties with his father.

Meanwhile, the youth gives space at his martial arts centre to some of his friends for setting up a tuition centre.

Then one day a mob attacks the centre. In retaliation, the youth and his friends go on the rampage, to send the assailants the message.  Now, it is the MLA’s son vs the district secretary’s brother.  Invited to the negotiating table to resolve the imbroglio, the reserved constituency MLA and his son arrive at the venue. The youth sees his father standing while his juniors in the party keep sitting. When the youth asks his father to sit in the chair, the district secretary says, “He will not sit in front of me.”

This is the plot point that triggers a series of incidents showing what the youth is up to.

The film has several scenes that look like lifts from the real life of P. Dhanapal, who had risen through the AIADMK party ranks to become Deputy Speaker and later Speaker

Vadivelu  plays the role of the MLA and Udayanidi Stalin his son. Fahad Fazil acts as the district secretary Rathinavelu and Sunil his brother.  Keerthi Suresh is the hero’s college classmate Leela.

The film sounds like a true story that we’ve heard frequently.

Also Read: Songs indicate Maamannan will be a Mari Selvaraj film

The name of the constituency in the film is Kasipuram that rhymes with the real Rasipuram.

The film has several scenes that look like lifts from the real life of P. Dhanapal, who had risen through the AIADMK party ranks to become Deputy Speaker and later Speaker.

The film makes the most of the past reports that highlighted the humiliation of Dhanapal in the district party politics.

Impact of social theme
A film touching upon a social issue must have what gets the audience hooked to the screen. The war of words between Fahadh Fazil and Udhayanidhi which broke out into violence finally keeps the viewers riveted. This scene strikes a chord with the people who must have, at least once in their lifetime, experienced the ugly face of social oppression. In fact, this scene has the potential of prompting viewers either to slam or praise the director Mariselvaraj.

Yet the screenplay’s second half does not match the first in intensity and depth. By and large, it is not boring.

Through symbols such as pigs and hunting dogs deftly blending with the glossily unfolding shots, the director has embodied his ideology and rootedness aesthetically. The scenes loaded with semiotic significance unfold in succession: A woman of the marginalised sections hiding under a cot on which a pig lies with ease and without fear; the cake being cut with a sword; garlands given in respect at the temple of ‘kuladeivam’. The shots of the Assembly, hunting dogs let loose and pigs running fast segue into the shots of Udhayanidhi, Fahadh Fazil and Vadivelu. They carry heavy connotations of a suffocating social hierarchical system wherein the weak come up to overthrow the strong.

The posters of the film carry the image of Udhayanidhi and Vadivelu carrying weapons that look like straws in the wind hinting at a massive violence as witnessed in the attack on the police station in the film Karnan. Fortunately, no such gory violence is shown in Maamannan. Yet the horror of violence is suggestively conveyed so as to jolt the society out of its complacency.

The war of words between Fahad Fazil and Udhayanidhi which broke out into violence finally keeps the viewers riveted on the scene. This scene strikes a chord with the people, particularly the marginalised sections

This film, though Udhayanidhi’s swan song in his film career, is surely a feather in his cap. With appropriate body language and expressions, he exudes the angst and agony of a marginalised man’s anger at the caste structure that divides humans into the high, the intermediate, the low and the lowliest. At the other end of the spectrum, Fazil comes off excellently as a man steeped in the age-old regressive and reactionary values and mores. In between appears Keethi Suresh who tries to strike a balance between the two extreme forces.

Vadivelu, typecast as a dyed-in-the-wool comedian, sheds that image and dons a serious mantle, neither laughing nor evoking laughs.  His pairing with Geetha Kailasam creates some goosebump moments.

Cinematography by Theni Eswaren, editing by R.K.Selva and art by Kumar Gangappan have all contributed to making for serious fare.  As if to relieve the sombre thread of the film, A.R. Rahman’s background score playing out differently saves the film at many points.

Also Read: Titanic meets Thandatti: When love survives honour killings

Critique of Dravidian parties
There are many hints in the film which point to the legacy of the Dravidian parties.  The ruling party is named Samathuva Samukaneethi Makkal Kazhagam and the word ‘Marumalarchi’ is added to the opposition party’ name. The parties’ symbols are single star and hurricane lantern.  Men are shown as leading the  parties. The ruling party captures power again. The names of the towns forming the backdrop are Salem and Kasipuram.   The heroine is Leela.  The message is clearly conveyed that the candidates in the electoral fray in the reserved constituencies have to toe the line of the party’s district secretary.  Politicians’ wives are fielded in the electoral battles.

(Photo credit: Mari_SelvarajFC- Twitter)

All these features of Maamannan are the usual stuff dished out by YouTube channels and websites. Yet they capture the spirit of contemporary Tamil Nadu politics.

Above all, the scene wherein Vadivelu speaks to his wife, massaging her legs is loaded with a subtextual message that women enjoy equality more in the subaltern society than in the oppressors’ world.

So, facts make up the most part of fiction.

“Mariselvaraj told me the storyline, expecting me to not appreciate it,” Udhayanidhi said in a recent interview.  Why did he say that? The reasons become evident a few minutes into the film.  Despite the story’s anti-Dravidian movement slant, how did he agree to bankroll and feature in the film?  That would seem to be a surprise. However, it will not be a surprise if one factors in the fact that it’s an unwritten law in cinema that any material with success potential is worth being filmed. For instance, when anti-establishment films smacking of communism were hitting the purple patch in the 1980s, even capitalists rushed in to cash in on the trend.

Maamannan has all it takes to evoke appreciation and denunciation.  Whether it will go down as a memorable film depends on how the general audience reacts to it as social critique.

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