- Director Mari Selvaraj delves into the world of politics head-on, tackling uncomfortable topics.
Mari Selvaraj, the acclaimed director behind “Pariyerum Perumal” and “Karnan,” solidifies his position as a master of montage with his latest film, “Maamannan.” Through brilliant storytelling and impeccable dialogue, Selvaraj hits the perfect spot, captivating audiences and leaving a profound impact.
From the groundbreaking “Pariyerum Perumal,” which focuses on despotism by the upper caste and importance of education for oppressed, to the revolutionary “Karnan,” where rebellion takes centre stage, Selvaraj now searches for a long lasting solution to the problem of caste by navigating through a political system infested with caste in his latest movie “Maamannan.”
In “Maamannan,” Selvaraj showcases his remarkable talent for character development. Just as he did with Kathir in “Pariyerum Perumal,” he brilliantly brings out the best in Vadivelu, delivering a career-defining performance. Vadivelu’s portrayal of a politician from scheduled caste community is both heart-wrenching and overwhelming. Witnessing Vadivelu’s transformation from a renowned comedian to a memorable political character and relatable father figure is a testament to Selvaraj’s directorial prowess.
The film strikes a delicate balance between symbolisms and a refined script that never overwhelms the narrative. It follows the journey of Maamannan played by Vadivelu , whose transformation from being called “Mannu” which means ‘Mud’, to embracing his true identity as “Maamannan” which means ‘’Emperor” lies at the heart of the story. Maamannan can be seen as Mari Selvaraj’s direct response to the film Thevar Magan. In the 1992 film, Vadivelu portrayed the oppressed Dalit character Isakki, a servant in the Periya Thevar (Sivaji Ganesan) household . Now, after a span of 31 years, Vadivelu himself played the role of Maamannan in Selvaraj’s movie, making a bold and explicit statement. This casting choice serves as a clear indication of Selvaraj’s intention to address and challenge the depiction of Dalits in Thevar Magan.
Selvaraj fearlessly delves into the world of politics, tackling uncomfortable topics head-on. In a manner reminiscent of filmmaker Pa Ranjith, Selvaraj addresses caste discrimination with unwavering boldness. The movie sheds light on the challenges faced by a scheduled caste MLA from reserved constituency within a political party that claims to champion social justice. It raises thought-provoking questions about caste discrimination in the party and the necessity for proper representation of scheduled caste representatives.
Fahadh Faasil delivers a stunning performance as the menacing and quirky antagonist, a minister’s son who rises to power due to his father’s influence. His portrayal adds an extra layer of intensity to this political drama, leaving an indelible impression on the audience. You can’t beat Fahadh Faasil in his screen presence.
Despite the film’s generally strong character development, Keerthy Suresh’s portrayal feels somewhat cursory and superficial. However, it is worth noting that her character is depicted as an independent woman who fearlessly takes her own decisions and advocates for the rights of the oppressed. Unfortunately, the limited exploration of her background prevents her character from making a significant impact on the audience.
Udhay Stalin, both a producer and a lead actor in the movie; deserves commendation for his brave criticism of his own father’s party and the prevalent caste discrimination within it. His audacity in shedding light on these issues and calling for a change is remarkable. While he delivered a satisfactory acting performance as Athiveeran, it pales in comparison to the outstanding acting performance by Vadivelu and Fahadh Faasil.
A.R. Rahman’s score combined with Vadivelu’s vocals, adds layers of depth to the film, enriching the cinematic experience. From precise cuts to seamless transitions, Selva RK’s flawless editing elevates the storytelling.
Symbolisms are intricately woven throughout “Maamannan,” enhancing its impact. The haunting black and white flashback sequence lingers in the mind long after the film ends. The depiction of upper-caste men stoning helpless scheduled caste children in a temple well and the ruthless killing of a defenseless dog serve as powerful symbols of caste oppression.
Athiveeran’s love for pigs transcends the ordinary. In this captivating tale, pigs are no longer mere farm animals; they have become an integral part of Athiveeran’s family. Imagine a house adorned with numerous paintings showcasing these remarkable creatures, capturing their beauty and charm.
In a heartfelt flashback scene, Athiveeran’s compassion shines through as he saves a pig from a dreaded ritualistic sacrifice. This act not only demonstrates his love for animals but also adds depth to his character and narrative of the film. In a country where reverence for cow dung & cow urine is often celebrated, and where some even consume the latter, pigs face unjust disdain due to their association with mud and Dalits face the same due to their association with Pigs. This powerful narrative intertwines the plight of both pigs and Dalits, highlighting the urgent need for compassion, understanding, and the eradication of societal prejudices.
Among the intriguing paintings, one particular portrait catches the eye—a pencil sketch of a piglet peacefully sleeping on a bed, positioned alongside the portrait of Dr. Ambedkar on the wall. Just as Babasaheb Ambedkar holds a revered place in Athiveeran’s heart and household, pigs share an equally cherished position in his life. They become integral members of the family, seamlessly blending into the daily rhythms and emotional connections that define Athiveeran’s existence.
But it doesn’t end there. Throughout the story, Athiveeran’s deep connection with pigs becomes more evident. In heartwarming scenes, we witness Athiveeran’s mother tenderly holding an orphan piglet, nurturing it with love and care. The piglet, now an inseparable part of the family, finds solace and comfort on Athiveeran’s bed, a testament to the unbreakable bond they share.
Dogs are employed as powerful symbols to depict the oppressed caste individuals who are cunningly manipulated and trained to turn against their own community. The primary antagonist goes to the extent of comparing many oppressed caste people to dogs throughout the movie, highlighting his deep seated contempt and disregard for the oppressed caste people.
In a particularly chilling scene, the antagonist (named Ratnavel), mercilessly beats a dog to death simply because it fails to win a race for him. This heartless act serves as a parallel to another pivotal moment before the election, where the antagonist kills a member of a caste association for failing to help in winning the election. Adding to the weight of these distressing events, Ratnavel deploys his trained dogs to attack and kill Athiveeran’s pigs, symbolizing the individuals from the scheduled castes who are manipulated to turn against their own people.
These harrowing instances shed light on the antagonist’s callous nature, showcasing his willingness to discard and eliminate anything or anyone that fails to serve his amour propre. ‘Maamannan’ underlines the stark realities faced by the oppressed community, highlighting the importance of standing against manipulation and oppression.
The climax of the film is an exhilarating testament to its revolutionary spirit of Mari Selvaraj. Dr. Babasaheb’s speech reverberates with the powerful message of unity and cooperation, urging us to make collective decisions and march forward as one. It’s a moment that ignites a fire within, inspiring us to challenge the status quo. And just when you think the intensity couldn’t escalate any further, the final frame unveils a stunning symbol of equality and peace — a white Buddha statue.
“Maamannan” is a powerful movie created to comfort the oppressed. Mari Selvaraj’s directorial brilliance shines through the seamless fusion of visuals and storytelling. This is just the beginning of Mari Selvaraj’s career. Audiences eagerly await more such impactful movies that ignite conversations about caste, one of India’s most pressing issues.
Lokesh Bag is a passionate writer, a movie critic, a relentless reader and a sketch artist. He has a graduate degree in Agricultural Entomology. He is an Ambedkarite and has been creating meaningful conversations about caste, gender, and social issues. He has previously been published in The Quint and he often writes on various topics in tweet-chunks on Twitter for his fans. He believes in working towards a better tomorrow, one word at a time. Follow him on Twitter.