One of Lokesh Kanagaraj’s discernable qualities as a storyteller is the discipline with which he approaches a subject. And that discipline is conspicuous by its absence in Master. Master is neither a nail-biter like Maanagaram nor a pacy thriller like Kaithi.
Lokesh had promised a Vijay film which would be very different from movies that Vijay usually does. Did he deliver on his promise? Yes. Master is the most fun, sensible, enjoyable and good looking movie that Vijay has done in a long time. Did I mention sensible?
After a long gap, Vijay has played, if you will, a nuanced character with qualities that don’t comply with the definition of a “complete man”. JD, which is short for John Durairaj (Vijay), is an unruly professor at a popular college in Chennai. He is adored by students, and that makes him enemy no 1 of the old guard in the management. He is a professor of psychology, who teaches focus as a subject. A quality that he lacks in his life. His greatest flaw is he has no focus, and he doesn’t pay heed to what people tell him. He hears but never listens. He doesn’t do what he preaches. Say, he is a hypocrite. He’s deeply flawed. And that is what makes Master stand out from recent Vijay movies.
JD doesn’t take himself too seriously. And his first response to any problem is not violence. I don’t recall a movie where Vijay played a character that didn’t believe no problem was too complex that couldn’t be solved with the fist. When a cop at the juvenile prison gives JD an opportunity to take out his anger on unruly inmates who have caused him irreplaceable loss, he refuses. And questions the role of the cops, the system, and the society in turning young people into hardened criminals. In any other Vijay movie, his character would have first thrashed those boys before giving them a moral lesson. Another quality of JD is that he doesn’t waste time debating right and wrong with people he intends to hurt. That is so un-Vijay.
So, yes, Lokesh has given us a different Vijay movie as he promised.
Lokesh Kanagaraj, who has co-written the film with Rathna Kumar and Pon Parthibhan, also knows by heart the best moves of Vijay. And he has supplied a generous amount of moments that would meet the approval of hardcore Vijay fans. There are even moments that act as a throwback to Vijay’s earlier movies. For example, the kabaddi scene in prison hat-tips Vijay’s Ghilli. In the process of doing this, Lokesh loses his competitive edge.
Nevertheless, there are some redeeming ideas in the film that shows Lokesh’s real talent as a storyteller. Especially, the way he has written his hero and the antagonist. Vijay Sethupathi’s Bhavani and JD have more things in common than they know. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. Even some of their mannerisms match. Bhavani knows that the world is a messed up place and he unapologetically and mercilessly exploits it for his survival. But, JD chooses to ignore the messy world by drowning himself in alcohol and rock music. And the way Lokesh portrays the side-effects of heavy drinking through Vijay’s character is clever.
That said, Master is neither completely a Vijay film nor entirely a Lokesh Kanagaraj film. Lokesh’s self-imposed limitations and obligation to be in fan-service undermine the film’s impact. He has used so many good talents as just fillers and wasted resources on ideas that don’t take the story forward. And, those are not the qualities of Lokesh who made Maanagaram and Kaithi.