Maharaja movie review: Vijay Sethupathi's tragic drama is a reimagination of Oldboy



    Maharaja follows a man, who goes to great lengths to seek revenge on a few unknown individuals who have wronged him.

    Director :
    • Nithilan Swaminathan
    Cast :
    • Vijay Sethupathi,
    • Anurag Kashyap,
    • Mamta Mohandas
    Genre :
    • Revenge thriller
    Language :
    • Tamil
    Platform :
    • Theatrical
    Maharaja movie review: Vijay Sethupathi's tragic drama is a reimagination of Oldboy
    Updated : June 14, 2024 02:56 PM IST

    Actor Vijay Sethupathi's latest movie, Maharaja, is a reimagination of the classic Korean neo-noir revenge thriller Oldboy. This statement might seem like a stretch, as the similarities between the two movies are not immediately apparent. The parallels between Maharaja and Oldboy don't lie in their unique visual styles, narrative techniques, or distinct plots. Instead, they are ingrained in their depiction of human tragedy and the double-edged nature of the insatiable urge for revenge.

    Director-writer Nithilan Swaminathan's Maharaja begins with a tragedy. Maharaja (Vijay Sethupathi) works as a barber at a local salon, and he's a simple man content with his modest life. He has a beautiful wife and a daughter, and tending to their needs is his only purpose in life. He does this with utmost dedication, almost bordering on devotion. However, a freak road accident shatters Maharaja's humble world. His three-year-old daughter survives the accident, thanks to a garbage bin made of metal. It falls on the toddler, covering her completely and protecting her from the impact of the accident. Maharaja's wife is not so lucky.

    To say Maharaja is thankful for the garbage bin is an understatement. He cares for it so much that it feels like, in his head, he has replaced the child's mother with an inanimate object. He names it 'Lakshmi' and treats it like a family deity. His daughter Jothi also shares his devotion and love towards 'Lakshmi.' The father and daughter have a ritual involving washing 'Lakshmi' every Friday and praying to it.

    One day, Maharaja goes to the local police station and claims that 'Lakshmi' has been taken by a few unknown men. When the cops ask him for details about Lakshmi, they are shocked to learn that it's a garbage bin. The cops don't take him seriously and treat him like a nuisance. However, Maharaja is not one to budge. We know this because, in a prior scene, Nithilan gives us a glimpse of Maharaja's physical prowess and mental toughness. Maharaja is like an elephant; he's mostly harmless, but he becomes extremely dangerous in a state of musth.

    Maharaja uses aggression, begs, and offers bribes to get the cops to take him seriously. Inspector Varadan (Natarajan Subramaniam) finally relents to Maharaja's bribe offer and begins an investigation.

    Nithilan provides enough to keep us hooked to the narrative and believe in the possibility of a man going to great lengths for a trash can. He also cleverly explores the overlapping narrative between Maharaja and Selvam (Anurag Kashyap). However, he makes great narrative leaps to get to the interesting parts of the movie and expects us to be okay with it. For example, in a matter of a few cuts, the director explains and subverts our expectations surrounding the role of the cops in the narrative, leaving us confused and expecting us to go with the flow without asking too many questions.

    Even though Nithilan hasn't discussed his influences, the resemblance of Oldboy to Maharaja is hard to miss. However, he flips the principal characters in a way that gives his film its own unique personality and style while rephrasing Oldboy's poignant take on the self-destructive nature of revenge.

    Maharaja shows that revenge is a sword that cuts both ways. The movie reminds us that when we try to hurt someone, we are also hurting ourselves. And some people don't realize this until it's too late.

    While Maharaja expects us to overlook a few gaps in the narration, the film is redeemed by the performances of its principals. Vijay Sethupathi's presence and his committed performance keep us invested in the movie. Natarajan Subramaniam also gives one of his best performances as a corrupt cop with his own moral compass.