Maara cast: Madhavan, Shraddha Srinath, Sshivada, Moulee
Maara director: Dhilip Kumar
Maara rating: Three stars
Maara is many genres rolled into one. Fable, romance, crime-and-redemption, wrapped up in a whimsical coming of age tale. For much of the time, nothing much happens, and yet you keep looking, because just like Paaru, the girl on a quest, you want to clap your eyes on the elusive Maara, the film’s titular rolled-into-one character — adventurer, seeker, and finder.
Pretty Paaru (Srinath), trained as a conservationist, turns her back on a likely fellow who has fallen for her. There’s a restlessness within her, which calls her to a picturesque town full of large wall paintings, picaresque characters, and a house laden with dusty artefacts. There are stories within this story, and our Paaru is drawn slowly but surely deeper into the centre, where lies an unfinished puzzle, featuring a couple of lost souls, and the answer.
Maara is a remake of Charlie, the 2016 Malayalam film starring Dulquer and Parvathy, which I haven’t seen, so I can’t say how faithful it is to the original. But to pull off a film like this, with its unexpected beats and rhythms, which keeps taking us down paths which round up on themselves in their own sweet time, is not easy. Debutant director Dhilip Kumar falters only in those stretches which are much too underlined, or which start giving us life lessons. Whimsy requires confidence and conviction, and in the parts where it slides into obviousness, the film makes you impatient, wishing it was shorter than its two-and-a-half hour run time.
On the whole, though, Maara is enjoyable, its colours, textures, quirks to be relished. What do you call a thief who stalks a woman for two years not because she is beautiful, but because she has a heavy gold chain around her neck? That’s right, there’s your quirky ‘chor’. Apart from these occasional amusing touches, there’s craft on display. A girl named Meenakshi is mentioned, and we get motifs of boats and water, and secrets nestling within an old locket shaped like a fish: hard to find mainstream movies with such a deliberate use design, and a leading lady whose job it is to excavate the past, and preserve the present.
Madhavan is appropriately loose-limbed and dishy, as he ambles through the film, spreading grizzled, warm charm. But even as you smile back at him, you wonder why we still need a man to be an all-round saviour. Why couldn’t it be Paaru to lead from the front? But I suppose you can break convention only up to a point: for a film like this to be a crowd catcher, you do need a big male star as the lodestar.