A flawed protagonist and a powerful antagonist have always proven to be successful tropes in the world of cinema. The hero, when being anything but perfect, makes way for a beautiful story arc as he convalesces and a strong villain makes the hero’s triumph at the end larger. Despite having both of these, Vijay’s Master feels far from a perfect flick thanks to succumbing to irregular pacing and a middling screenplay.
Master follows the trials and tribulations of JD (Vijay), an alcoholic college professor whose valiant effort towards the student community plants a belief in his colleague Charu (Malavika Mohanan) that he would be able to do the same to the kids in a juvenile correction centre that needs… correction. Armed with a just kada, a classic four-wheeler, a Persian cat and a cool pair of sunglasses, JD embarks on a journey that will collide with that of Bhavani’s (Vijay Sethupathi). On paper, Master looks like a failproof star vehicle – the story of a man out there to teach lessons in ways those opposite him would understand – and the film almost does it too, almost!
Cast: Vijay, Vijay Sethupathi, Malavika Mohanan, Andrea Jeremiah
Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
It’s welcoming to see stars collaborating with the younger breed of filmmakers and despite calling such films as experiments would be an overstatement, it’s nice to see them on backdrops that we seldom saw them in. We get to see the best of both worlds — there’s the usual “mass” factor that a star like Vijay brings in effortlessly and we also have the elements that have sort of become a trademark in the three films old director’s filmography. Vijay looks stylish as ever in a character that exudes positivity and is in total contrast to Vijay Sethupathi’s Bhavani who is a veshti-claded symbol of darkness. The fanboy in Lokesh makes sure we get to enjoy his homages to Vijay’s previous hits and he also shows us the ‘kurumbuthanamana’ Vijay for the majority of the first half. That mischief also percolates into VJS’ character where it transforms to dark humour which happens to be the director’s forte. After a long time, we get a formidable foe for our hero in the form of VJS and the man gives us a splendid performance that’s enough to forget what was made of him in Petta. As a technically sound film, Master brings back the brilliant background score of Anirudh that we dearly missed in Darbar. Sathyan Sooryan’s lovely frames were a pleasant surprise and the way he has played with lights make way to some visually pleasing shots that are sure to make the rounds over social media as photo posts when the film releases in Amazon Prime Video.
In an interview, the director mentioned how the film will be partly his as well as that of Vijay and though they work well as two different entities, seeing them together as a single product feels cumbersome. Despite taking its sweet time to get the main plot, we only get to see the backstory of Bhavani and the reason we don’t see why JD turned into an alcoholic is that it will apparently cause those with similar backstories to take up drinking as well. Talk about convenience! Despite having a cast list that’s enough to fill the biggest of theatres, even with 100% occupancy, we rarely see the rest of them make a mark. Apart from Arjun Das and Poovaiyar, most of the established actors and known faces are reduced to mere cameos.
Though sticking to montage shots, we get to hear all the songs from the album and with the film clocking in at almost 3 hours, when Thalapathy goes “Let me sing a kutti story,” a part of us wishes he keeps it real kutti. My biggest grouse against Master is the inconsistent pacing and it’s surprising considering how impeccable the screenplay was in Lokesh’s Maanagaram and Kaithi. This makes it hard to connect with the emotional aspects of the film and if not for the final face-off (which isn’t groundbreaking but just pure fun), it would’ve made way for a predictable end.
On the whole, it’s Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi who carry the humongous weight of this film on their able shoulders throughout the lengthy narrative which could’ve been shorter and tightly-wound. Despite getting the lessons right, this Master barely passes the test.