'Maradona' review: Tovino Thomas excels again as a flawed hero

Director Vishnu Narayanan avoids the cliches of a first time director and makes many unique choices that work well.
'Maradona' review: Tovino Thomas excels again as a flawed hero
'Maradona' review: Tovino Thomas excels again as a flawed hero
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No one really explains why he is called Maradona. Only in a short clip from the past he is seen wearing the number 10 jersey of the Argentinian football legend.  

But Tovino Thomas plays Maradona without any indication of even having watched a football game. It’s just that the film is titled after him, the protagonist, like films often are. 

Our Maradona kicks too, but not the football. He kicks men, beats them up to pulp, to make money. With a lifelong friend, Sudhi (Tito Wilson). You don’t exactly see the beginning of this habit, or a wounded past leading to it. The film starts, quite a lot like Tovino’s last film Mayaanadhi, in the middle of a plan gone wrong. And again, like in Mayanaadhi, there is a small team of men led by a man called Martin (Chemban Vinod) searching for him. 

But unlike Mathan of Mayaanadhi, you don’t see an innocent, immature clueless young man. This guy is flawed and doesn’t invite your sympathy. It’s just that it is the familiar face of Tovino who has played quite a few adorable roles before.  He is also not your regular bad guy.  You might say he grows a heart in the days he is stuck in a house in Bengaluru with nothing much to do but talk to a dog and create a few balcony friendships. 

That’s where quite a bit of the film is set – and uniquely so. It’s rather endearing the way the conversations happen and relationships change, between balconies of high-rises. Something plucked out of an old village scene when neighbours shouted to each other from their front yards.  

It is difficult to believe that director Vishnu Narayanan is a first-timer. He’s got quite a lot of it right, especially when it comes to avoiding cliches. In a bid to escape the old cliches he also doesn’t fall into new age ones. There is no immediate intimacy, for instance, between Maradona and the next door girl that he meets. Asha is first heard through her many typical friend-to-friend phone calls filled with gossip talk. New girl Sharanya Nair is beautiful here, her embarrassed face and her disturbed face and her falling in love face all coming out right. No underplay, no exaggeration.  

Asha is the typical young woman from Kerala living a Bangalore life, but without the unnaturally quick adaptations to a fancy new life. She slams the door every time Maradona comes knocking the door for ‘umma’.  It's not that Asha changes him overnight. Maradona’s is a carefully written character that does not make quick shifts from one extreme to another. But like humans do, he goes through tiny bumps and learns to look back at his life and wonder. “I don’t know if all that I did is right or wrong. I have never even thought of all that,” he says at one point. You get that. Few people ever come to facing their own mistakes, let alone admit them.  

This is the kind of ‘hero’ with a negative shade that you can appreciate. There’s no line glorifying the wrongs he does. It’s wrong and it’s shown as wrong. You might even try to justify his beatings of men he’s been paid to beat up, for political reasons or whatever. But you cannot forgive him for the way he holds tight the hands of a little girl and orders her to do ‘Nagavalli’ from Manichathrathazhu. For a moment, you clutch the chair, fearing if the director was going to show through his protagonist the disturbing reality of child abuse. But no, Maradona is just a scary guy who scares everyone, not an abuser. In fact, he advises another young man that he tries to make some quick money from, “You should be a man or else take money to do things, but you’re drugging girls and doing things. Very bad.” 

So when he tries to make a move on her and Asha slaps him, he takes it, acts rightfully hurt, but leaves her alone. His character, at that point of the movie, is still neither here, not there. Tovino has a penchant for these roles, it seems. He takes unusual neither here-nor there characters and plays them to a surprisingly fresh perfection. 

Where the script suddenly jerks is in the second half, when perhaps in a bid to show Maradona’s so-far unexpressed leap in character, he risks his life and climbs heights – and he is shown as a man afraid of heights – to save a bunch of pigeons.  The quiet regrets were doing fine till then. There are other unexplained bits hanging, but they don't really bother you. It’s a pretty complete film in most ways. No character is left in the lurch or without a purpose, from the old neighbour Ousepachan to the family Maradona comes to stay with and Rambo the dog. 

Music helped. Not just for the changing emotions, but to give the chasing effect when Chemban and gang show up. For love, and for regret, and for hurt. But Sushin Syam adds these touches all so quietly in the background, that he never disturbs the flow like musicians often do with a tad too much loudness, burying the lines spoken. At times, it takes you again to Mayaanadhi, the music somehow having a Rex Vijayan flavour in it. Not surprising when both the musicians come from a rock background. 

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.

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