‘Mahaveeryar’ movie review: Nivin Pauly stars in an absurd, mystical courtroom comedy

There is fun, there is time-travel, there is courtroom drama. Yet it turns out to be the film we didn’t expect at all. 

Published - July 22, 2022 12:20 pm IST

Nivin Pauly in ‘Mahaveeryar’

Nivin Pauly in ‘Mahaveeryar’

In Abrid Shine’s last film with Nivin Pauly, Action Hero Biju, what you saw on the poster was not quite what you got. The title – including its font – induced an expectation of a Singham-type masala cop potboiler. It, however, turned out to be a realistic, almost documentary-style narration of events that unfold in a police station. The film did have a moustachioed macho police officer as its protagonist. But it wasn’t merely about him; it showed the people and the events around him, thus attempting a tightrope walk between a ‘commercial entertainer’ and ‘experimental cinema’.

Their latest film, Mahaveeryar, based on a short story written by M Mukundan, surprises the audience as well. Going by the trailers and posters, we were expecting a fun-filled time-travel courtroom comedy. There is fun, there is time-travel and there is courtroom drama. Yet it turns out to be the film we didn’t expect at all. 

‘Rooted’ is how most people who watched their first two films – Action Hero Biju and the heartwarming 1983 –  describe the works. But this adjective does not quite fit Mahaveeryar. Early on, we get a few slice-of-life scenes involving a small town and its people, sprinkled with humour, reminding us of 1983. But it soon goes into a different zone – at times, to different dimensions altogether.

(Read:Nivin Pauly’s interview about Mahaveeryar)

Mahaveeryar has a simple premise, reminding us of tales from Tinkle. A king, Rudra Mahaveera Ugrasena Maharaja (superbly played by Lal), who is in the midst of his harem of semi-clad fair-and-slim women, abruptly gets a hiccup. Then another… and, another. It doesn’t stop. He chugs some water to make it go away. But the goddamn thing doesn’t cease even after following the advise of the best physicians in the kingdom. He can’t sleep. He can’t concentrate on his royal duties. He can’t live in peace. So, he summons his Chief Minister, Veerabhadran (Asif Ali) and gives him a strange order: to find a woman – a woman who he has not hitherto seen, a woman who is beautiful but also with a soul as pure as the tulsi plant, so he can sleep with her.

While all this seem to happen in a faraway land, long long ago, the story suddenly shifts to 2020, where a town encounters a mysterious saffron-clad hermit, with flowing beard, braided hair, and ash smeared all over his forehead. He calls himself Apoornnananthan and claims to travel through time. He is accused of an idol theft and is produced in court. Seeing Nivin in this hermit avatar evokes a chuckle in the beginning. You get a feeling he is going to make you fall off your seat with laughter. 

Director: Abrid Shine
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Shanvi Srivastava, Asif Ali, Lal, Lalu Alex, Siddique, and more
Runtime: 2 hr 20 min

The first few scenes involving him seem to progress in that direction. We see him arguing in court, without a lawyer, quoting sections in the Indian constitution as well as Arthasashtra to the amusement and the amazement of lawyers and the judge. As the movie progresses, you get a feeling it is a satire of our justice system. But, at the halfway point, the events in the film transcends the limits of the judiciary, logic, and time itself as the past kind merges with the present. The characters from the aforementioned kingdom enter the modern-day courtroom. Now, the judge Veerendrakumar (played by a wonderful Siddique) now has to settle a centuries-old case. How will this proceed?

What follows is some intense narration of many things –  the ruthlessness of power, the servility of institutions, the naivety of romance, the extraordinary power of love and kindness… It gets a bit too mystical.  

This is a film that requires a ready suspension of disbelief. If you pause to ask, “Wait, what, how did that happen?”, you might not always get answers. For instance, how the characters of the past arrive travel to the present isn’t explained. We don’t clearly know who or what exactly Apoornnananthan is either. All we know is he is journeying from the ‘incomplete’ to the ‘complete’. The writing is unabashedly abstract. It could have gone awry. But some wonderful performances (especially Lal’s and Siddique’s) ably supported by Ishaan Chhabra’s background score and Selvaraj Chandru’s camerawork (glorious in the past portions) retain the intrigue of the film right towards its end. 

Mahaveeryar is running in theatres

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