In order to like Maara, you must first understand who her distant cousin Charlie is, or rather, what he is. he is a figment of the imagination; a mythical figure in an imaginative world. he is a wanderer (“naadodi”) who enters and leaves other people’s lives; a charmer who brings joy and happiness into their lives. one could say that he is an incarnation of amelie. and like that movie, charlie is a character that could only exist in a book; a fairy tale to be exact. and when you say fairy tale, he immediately defies logic and writes his own rules.
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the larger design of the movie and the undying interest in meeting charlie were fascinating aspects to me apart from, you know, shruti raman (parvathy). Charlie is so deceptively simple that, in other words, it’s a difficult movie to adapt. because its sensibilities are firmly rooted in the reality of the film, and it makes little or no sense to adapt to a different socio-cultural setting. but what dhilip kumar (cleverly?) does in maara is that he takes the soul and gives a more literal interpretation of what a fairy tale would be like, in a real world. look at the props, murals, landscapes and costumes that use dhilip to achieve the desired texture, with excellent production design. scream passion. aesthetically speaking, maara is a better adaptation of charlie than the movie itself.
It begins with a delightful opening involving a young girl on a bus ride, bothering her grandmother with bedtime stories. she is less interested in “long, long, long ago” tales. she wants to hear a story that is unusual. she wants a story that satisfies her imaginative quest. When a fellow traveler, an elderly nun named Mary, recounts a fabled journey: of a soldier and his quest to find his “soul” locked inside a fish (he would have preferred a mermaid, but he may not be a boy). fairy tale), we get a beautiful animated sequence with waves, winds, thunderstorms and a conch… the fairy tale comes to life and the girl’s journey begins. in a way, the title scene we see itself is a figment of the girl’s imagination. in another place, like the girl, someone is traveling by train and their lives are linked by fate.
and this girl grows up to become a restoration artist, paaru aka parvathy (shraddha srinath), restoring priceless artifacts and works of art. It’s no irony that the greatest restoration paaru would take is retrieving the soldier’s lost soul. but who is this soldier? is he real or a myth? could it be real? it could, when paaru stumbles upon murals of the legend of the soldier in kerala (is there a better place to show the intersectionality of different communities?), when she runs away from home when pressured to marry. she is, if she can, looking for her soul mate.
the murals point to a name: maaran (madhavan). could it be the soldier? could he be the answer paaru is looking for? maara is about this endless quest and the characters are constantly searching. To complete the larger puzzle that is Maara, Paaru has to meet a myriad of characters to get the bigger picture. it is like the character savitri from navaratri. the only difference is that the characters paaru knows needed better scenes. For example, in Charlie, the late Kalpana actor played a sex worker. I don’t exactly remember the conversation he had with Charlie, but I got a lump in my throat. I filled up although abhirami does her best to make the character impactful, she doesn’t achieve the same results. same with alexander babu. and with guru somasundaram. and the same with kishore too.
dhilip kumar introduces himself as a visual filmmaker. Some of the images in Maara are beautiful and surprising at the same time: an excellent shot of Maara’s menacing shadow and an extremely wide shot of Paaru in the middle of a face mural come to mind. the dramatic parts needed more polish, but they definitely worked better than charlie, thanks to an excellent decision to cast the slightly older actors in mouli, junior balayya, rs sivaji and bharathi mani.
Mouli plays Vellaiya, who is also searching for her teenage love, Meenakshi. he is a playwright, the man behind the legend of the soldier for his play, for his… meenu. It’s a story arc, which seemed to be right on Charlie and had veteran Nedumudi Venu playing it. here, the nested lives of vellaiya-mara-paaru-and-meenakshi are too dramatic for good. mouli especially is fantastic in the scene where he meets meenakshi. Decades of longing for this moment and when he arrives, Vellaiya instinctively uses her lens to see if it really is her. hers is a story that completes maara and paaru. and your heart warms when meenakshi (now going by a different name) asks if the soldier had found his soul and when vellaiya says, “naadagathula, adutha anjun nimishathula-ye kedaichiruchu.”
but maara is also a bummer. because he’s a bit too rigid and doesn’t have the joy between the main characters; dulquer salmaan and parvathy thiruvothu really complemented each other. Shraddha Srinath does the heavy lifting for the most part and Madhavan is too rigid to be a lucid and fluid character. that’s why when dulquer and parvathy meet at the climax, you said, “wow, they finally met.” in maara, that moment is diluted and you end up with: “well, they finally met”.
maara is currently streaming on amazon prime video