Mahaveera Ugrasena Maharajavu Thirumanassu, a mighty 18th century king with a penchant for women, is in an unfortunate predicament. He is unable to get sleep, look after royal affairs, or focus on anything significant for that matter, all because of a perpetual hiccup affliction — one that not even the best of the best medical practitioners across his kingdom are able to get rid of. Hence, the king (Lal) sends out his trusted prime minister Veerabhadran (Asif Ali) on a mission: to find him a woman of poetic beauty, who he thinks can help him get a good sleep. This is the point in time from which Mahaveeryar — the latest among director Abrid Shine’s series of collaborations with actor Nivin Pauly — invites us into its world, and then takes us on a rollercoaster journey through the vagaries (or lack thereof) of our justice system, over several centuries.
The film is undoubtedly the product of a surreal vision, just like the one that a local milkman, Babukuttan (Sudheer Paravoor), is pulled into at the break of dawn on January 2, 2020, immediately after consuming the prasadam (sacred food) handed over to him by a mysterious saint. As Babukuttan explains later in the movie, he was transported into a world of butterflies and colours, with the enigmatic saint, played by Nivin Pauly, at the centre of it all. He is so enamoured by what he saw that he immediately christens himself a disciple of the saint and refuses to leave his side ever, or at least until a few hours later — when things quickly go south and his new guru gets accused of trying to steal an idol from the temple nearby.
The scenes after the saint is taken to court are hilarious. As the mystic who has no qualms fighting his own case and spouting law points, Nivin Pauly’s underappreciated comic timing makes a fun return, which is refreshing to watch. Sudheer Karamana, Mallika Sukumaran and Sudheer, each with their own quirky idiosyncrasies, make good turns as the witnesses in the case. A few side plots, involving other routine cases that are underway at the court, are also successful in earning a few chuckles. In the meantime, the mystery behind this enigma of a man is also enough to keep one hooked.
Pitched as a black humour and a political satire, Mahaveeryar is aware of itself. Abrid Shine revels in this self-awareness, foregoing subtlety and freely indulging himself in the absurdity of the situation, using exaggerated theatrics and music to back it. On this note, Siddique too gets a few good moments to display his acting chops, as a judge who freely lets go of his neutrality. Asif Ali is also effective as the charming minister, who seemingly falls in love with the woman that his king had set him out to find. The cinematography by the award-winning Chandru Selvaraj, especially in the period portions, is stunning. So are Chandrakant Sonawane’s costumes, though they leave us confused as to the demographics of where the two stories are set in.
Where the film begins to falter, however, is when its genre transitions out of the blue to accommodate its much talked-about time travel elements. As the aforementioned king, his second in command, and the royal staff suddenly walk into the court to begin the hearing of a new (old?) case from a different timeline, one is left wondering if they accidentally ended up missing a scene or two in between. From there, it takes a long time for the film to make apparent the points it has been trying to convey.
As has been proved before, however, the director does not seem to have much of a knack for women characters. The female protagonist in the film, Devayani, played by Shanvi Srivastava who is making her Malayalam debut, is a severely underwritten character. She has no agency or opinions of her own, and exists solely as an object of men’s desires. Her essence also seems to have been entirely placed on her supposed modesty as a woman. In the meantime, the film also has a woman character who has been brought to court for apparently trying to seduce a 61-year-old man, with her overt sexuality being used as a source of humour.
On paper, Mahaveeryar’s premise is as intriguing as they come, making one want to read the original short story by acclaimed author M Mukundan, on which the film is based, instead. Despite all its value in terms of its one-of-its-kind experimental form as a genre bender, the film unfortunately struggles to fully do justice to that premise. Many questions are left unanswered, the most disappointing of which remains the lack of exploration of Nivin Pauly’s time-travelling omniscient saint Apoornananda, who turns into a mere spectator by the latter half of the film.
Take a deeper look, and Mahaveeryar can be viewed as a political commentary — on how little our justice system has evolved in favour of the victim and how it has always remained subservient to those in power, on how people in the upper echelons of the society benefit from the sweat and tears shed by the average citizen, and on the dilemma of how committed one should be towards those governing them to retain the tag of a ‘model citizen’. Unfortunately, the film does not make the process of analysing its politics easy for the viewer.
All said, however, Mahaveeryar deserves a watch for its experimental value alone.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.