Director: Dhilip Kumar
Cast: R. Madhavan, Shraddha Srinath, Mouli, Padmavati Rao, Ssvidha
Maara (in Tamil) reminded me of a fable, a fairy tale, even a nonsense rhyme with a wide-eyed young woman going in search of a mystery man. Her travels take her to a variety of places – mostly in coastal Kerala – and to a myriad group of people who had all met him and experienced his warmth. Every story they have had to say gets her more and more curious, and her urge to meet him gets stronger. And, all the more so, because he seems such a good soul.
The woman is Paru (played by Shraddha Srinath with enormous feeling and such expressive eyes that it is a pleasure to watch her), and the man is Manimaran or Maara (a wonderful performance by R. Madhavan), the title character. Directed by Dhilip Kumar from the 2015 Malayalam movie, Charlie (with Dulquer Salman and Parvathy Thiruvothu), Maara begins rather innocuously on a bus journey with a very young Paru demanding a story from her grandmother. And the kid is not happy with whatever the elderly woman comes up with, till a co-passenger soothes Paru with the story of a soldier and how his soul lay inside a fish, which would rejoice every time it heard the sound of a conch, because it knew that he was safely back home after a battle.
Many, many years later, Paru unwilling to be tied down in marriage runs away from home on the pretext of an office assignment, and lands in Kerala where she is startled to find giant size paintings on every wall, and some of them tell the same tale that the woman on the bus had told her many moons ago. She learns that the painter is a man named Maara, but to catch him would be like trying to pin a cloud down ( am quoting the lyrics from a song in The Sound of Music). But when she by a stroke of luck finds accommodation in Maara’s empty home, a sprawling place filled with images and sculptures, she decides that she must somehow find him.
Her search leads her to many corners of the region and finally end in a home run by Vellaiya (Mouli). It has an assorted group, including a young doctor, Kani (Sshivda), whom Maara had saved from committing suicide. She had botched up her first surgery, and a 10-year-old child went. There is also a girl named Rani in the home, and Maara had saved her from the clutches of a child molester. Paru decides to stay on there, hoping to catch Maara, and the magical meeting happens right at the end, which also presents a surprising climax. Some may see it coming.
Kumar leaves his own stamp on the film, and while the hero in Charlie is an enigma, Maara is less so, maybe a ploy to make viewers feel good. It is also amazing how the movie uses a fish to connect Maara and Paru as well as Vellaiya and his long, lost love. A truly charismatic Madhavan and an unforgettable Srinath make Maara a great watch.
However, I would have preferred a longer screen time for Maara and Paru, which is quite short, because the film takes a while to weave into their relationship. The end may seem somewhat abrupt, even unconvincing, and there is this question that haunts me. We know that Paru is a nostalgic art restorer, but could that have been the lone reason for her to try so hard to find the man called Maara?
Despite these hiccups, Maara is certainly worth a watch.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author of a biography of Adoor Gopalakrishnan)