Maharaja review: Vijay Sethupathi reigns in this convoluted yet convincing drama

The actor does all the heavy lifting in the film that relies on humour and non-linear narrative to propel the story.

ByAvinash Ramachandran

Published:Jun 14, 2024

Maharaja marks the 50th film of Vijay Sethupathi

Maharaja (Tamil)

14-06-2024, Action Drama, 2 hours 22 minutes U/A
  • Main Cast:Vijay Sethupathi, Anurag Kashyap, Abhirami, Natty, and Mamta Mohandas
  • Director:Nithilan Saminathan
  • Producer:Sudhan Sundaram, Jagadish Palanisamy
  • Music Director:Ajaneesh Loknath
  • Cinematography:Dinesh Purushothaman



At one point in Vijay Sethypathi-starrer Maharaja, there is an off-handed joke involving Ilaiyaraaja and AR Rahman. It was effective because the line came out of nowhere.

Similarly, there is one gag involving the late actor Kunal that isn’t effective because it goes nowhere. But writer-director Nithilan Saminathan never stops trying. Come what may, the man is relentless.

In Maharaja, nothing is what it seems to be, and every scene is written to either pull the wool over our eyes or pull the carpet from under our feet. Despite rolling-your-eyeballs-level convenience, this approach manages to be effective.

At the core of its multi-genre shifting narrative, Maharaja is an emotionally charged film about a man and his loss. And it is tough not to empathise with a classic tale of revelation, redemption, and retribution.

This is probably why, even when Nithilan Saminathan makes us go around in circles to get to the point, we look past it because he seems to have the knack of blowing the wind out of our lungs with his last act revelations.

Vijay Sethupathi turns a star

Labelled as Vijay Sethupathi’s landmark 50th film, Maharaja is the actor proclaiming to the world that he is also a star. While his stardom continues to baffle many filmmakers who aren’t sure how to position him, Nithilan Saminathan gets it perfectly.

The film is a star vehicle headlined by one of the most uncategorisable stars of Tamil cinema—Vijay Sethupathi. That is why even when he seems to be in the backseat, we very well know that an elevation is right around the corner.

This also takes away from some of the twists coming at us because we know it is coming even if we don’t know its timing.

Vijay Sethupathi does all the heavy lifting in the film that relies on humour in a few places, and non-linear narrative in a few others to propel the story.

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Has its flaws but is an engaging watch

Vijay Sethupathi and Mamta Mohandas in Maharaja

Vijay Sethupathi and Mamta Mohandas in ‘Maharaja’. (Supplied)

The contrivances in the writing, especially the convoluted narrative, feel disjointed on retrospection, but Nithilan Saminathan ensures it unfolds convincingly.

While watching the multiple narratives flow together, or intermesh with one another, or just get too labyrinthine, we are so focused on unravelling it in our heads that we don’t mind the cinematic liberties.

He is ably supported in this endeavour by Ajaneesh Loknath’s background score, Dinesh Purushothaman’s effective cinematography, the organic stunt choreography by Anal Arasu, and of course, the casting.

Apart from a miscast Anurag Kashyap and an under-utilised Mamta Mohandas, Maharaja‘s casting is on point.

Special mention to the ever-reliable Abhirami, the menacing Manikandan of Boys (2003) fame, and the young actor Sachana Nemidas for delivering performances that ensure we are invested in their lives right from the moment we set eyes on them.

This also allows Nithilan Saminathan to cut down the flab in the narrative, and concentrate on pushing it forward.

Despite having one twist too many, Maharaja is engaging, thanks to the oscillation between levity and seriousness.

The scenes in the police station overstay their welcome. But it is also one of the rare films that give police officers their due.

On the sets of Maharaja

On the sets of ‘Maharaja’. (Supplied)

It does such a good job of showing them as competent investigating officers. But Nithilan Saminathan also shows them as corrupt, and very comfortable with custodial violence.

Somehow, wringing humour out of both these aspects of the police doesn’t sit right in a film that aims to be sensitive. Even on this front, Maharaja falters quite a bit because Nithilan has a different notion of where to stop when it comes to portraying violence of any sort.

Now, the jury is out there when it comes to the depiction of violence on screen, but there is a very thin line between reality and gratuitousness.

Through Maharaja and his debut film Kurangu Bommai (2017), Nithilan Saminathan showcases his affinity towards karma, morality, and poetic justice. It is almost like both films are cut from the same cloth.

Both make us think things just conveniently fall into place. But isn’t the willing suspension of disbelief the core tenet of cinema?

When all the knots are untangled, and the film reaches its crescendo, we see through the gimmicky nature of Maharaja. But we grudgingly move past it because Nithilan Saminathan smacks us with a twist that is inspired but effective.

Also Read: From Thenmerku Paruvakaatru to Maharaja: Vijay Sethupathi, the all-rounder

Final take

As the credits roll, Maharaja reminds us that it is more than just VJS 50.

(Views expressed here are personal.)