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Film Review: Hotly-Anticipated Kollywood Blockbuster ‘Master’ Thrives as an Acting Masterclass5 min read

21 January 2021 4 min read


Film Review: Hotly-Anticipated Kollywood Blockbuster ‘Master’ Thrives as an Acting Masterclass5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

An alcoholic professor is sent to a juvenile school, where he clashes with a gangster, who uses the children of the school for criminal activities.

Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj

Cast: Vijay, Vijay Sethupathi, Malavika Mohanan, Arjun Das, Andrea Jeremiah

Year: 2021

Country: India

Language: Tamil

Runtime: 179 minutes 

Film Trailer:

Tamil cinema has not seen a big release for the majority of 2020 because of COVID-19 and that makes fans angry — very angry. Then came the big news that Master was releasing for Ponggal, the Hindu harvest festival that happens annually on 14 January. Naturally, expectations were high but the penultimate question is — did Master successfully scratch the itch?

The short answer is yes, but you’re going to want to read the long answer too.

Master follows John Durairaj (Vijay) who plays an alcoholic college professor and is lovingly (or begrudgingly) called JD by his students and colleagues. He teaches personality development and the students revere him to an unrealistic extent. Nobody likes their teachers that much. Concurrently, we are introduced to Bhaavani (Vijay Sethupathi) who is the hardened criminal who runs his criminal enterprise on the backs of young boys in juvenile detention. 

Now, this is where it was supposed to get interesting. JD is transferred to that detention center and is tasked with reforming the boys. The rest of the film is a cat-and-mouse chase between the two characters in a set-up that promises an epic showdown.

In an era where ensemble films are almost unheard of anymore in Kollywood, any director would kill to have both Vijays, who are both at the top of their game, to grace their frame. Director Lokesh Kanagaraj had that boon and more in Master

Kanagaraj develops their individual tracks adequately but lets us down when the two tracks finally intercept. It was too little too late in the climax where I was left wanting more, and not in a good way either. His writing is very American Gangster with a slow burn that works phenomenally in building tension but never quite finishes. 

The biggest part of the film’s success, however, is the performances of Vijay and Sethupathi. Every movie has a protagonist but it is a truly menacing antagonist that makes him a hero. That is exactly what Bhaavani does for JD. 

Vijay as JD is nuanced with a restraint that is not usually seen in his performance. A huge treat for his fans is his familiar mannerisms. However, the standout quality of JD is how deeply flawed he is which Vijay effortlessly brings to the screen, making the character very endearing and relatable.

When Master was touted as not a Vijay film, I had my doubts. The man is revered all around the world, after all, and it was going to be impossible to disassociate the two. However, Vijay meets his match with Sethupathi’s acting chops, which is one of the most important factors that elevates the quality of the film.

Sethupathi’s performance as Bhaavani is immaculate. His evilness is almost casual as he goes around killing his enemies cavalierly. Sethupathi even successfully marries humour with menace in many hilarious moments. There were instances where I found myself subconsciously rooting for Bhavaani, even though he is essentially using young boys as a shield for his criminal activities — but that’s just what Sethupathi’s acting does to you.

The songs in the film are very successful in spurring on the animosity and riling the audience up, in the best possible way. Anirudh’s compositions are placed strategically in pockets where the tension is about to boil over, a welcome surprise in Tamil films, where songs are often unnecessary and awkward. He nails the background score, knowing just what the audience needs to hear, when.

What is unnecessary, however, is how many fight sequences there are in Master. Although they are expertly choreographed, there are just one too many in an otherwise decently paced film.

Technically, Master is a strong film. The creative use of lighting to toy with the concept of good versus evil is noteworthy. Kanagaraj loves his night-time-pitch-black vehicle chase scenes as the Kaithi signature is recreated in this film, albeit in a lacklustre manner. Cinematography is diverse with various top-angle and wide shots that make the juvenile detention centre all that more terrifying.  

Overall, Master thrives as an acting masterclass which makes up for the writing discrepancies. Seeing the two Vijays on screen was a delight for me as a Tamil film superfan. Their sizzling chemistry is built on animosity on screen but there is an underlying feeling of bromance between the two actors that is so wholesome and joyful to watch.

While Kanagaraj might have dropped the metaphorical filmmaking ball just a tad on Master, the young director still has much to be proud of. He did quench the thirst for quality cinema amidst a pandemic, after all, and for the loyal fans of Kollywood including myself, that in itself is a priceless gift.

Master is now showing in theatres.

Stacy is a self-proclaimed wordsmith who tries to see the good in the world.
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