An Jo on the real Master – Lokesh Kanagaraj



(Spoilers ahead)
One of the striking shots and, if you will see in ‘Master’ is that Vijay Setupathi’s ‘Bhavani’ has scars at the same place just above his left-chin compared to Vijay’s ‘JD’ where he sticks two small band-aids. And then there’s a scene that’s inter-cut when Bhavani kills the last opponent in his quest to become the president of the lorry drivers’ association: That scene is finely executed where the director while laying out the commonalities, spreads out the differences more beautifully and intelligently. Bhavani kills the opponent brutally – it is raw – while at the same time, JD takes out his 6-7 opponents who come to a jail cell to kill him. The skill that Lokesh possesses lies in understanding that he is working with two radically different actors/stars and that with the budget/money at stake, he cannot afford to go wrong. He does equal justice to both the actors and that’s truly the preliminary joy of this film. This is one hell of a marriage between so called ‘mass’ and ‘class’, albeit, not completely solemnized thanks to issues like length and excessive concentration on catering to Vijay’s Tamil Nadu fan-base.

   For the first 30 odd minutes, the focus is on Setupathi’s childhood and it is superbly crafted. Lokesh just cuts to the meat with the first scene itself when Setupathi’s parents are killed and he agrees to keep his mouth shut. [Carefully observe, even his father is killed due to ‘union’ politics.] He is forced into a government reformatory institution and his life is made miserable. He pumps all his anger into his fists and then, well, as you see through-out the movie, how he uses the fists. [It is brilliant how JD uses his ‘kara’ to fight Bhavani in the last scene: Fisticuffs to fisticuffs]. 

Master, as JD—a reference to Jack Daniels— is known as some personality teacher in a college in Madras of which he is an alumnus. He is forced to take a break due to his alcohol addiction and take care of a reformatory center in Nagercoil where Bhavani uses booze and drugs to break the kids of the juvenile center into submission and ultimately use them as pawns to surrender and take the blame upon themselves for the crimes he commits. JD comes into the same center and is indifferent to the heinous crimes goings-on in the reformatory but kicks his addiction when he sees two kids murdered and hanged to death. The crux of the story then is the squaring-off between JD and Bhavani. I wouldn’t want to reveal much of the story here because frankly, that is not important. 

As I titled this piece and mean it honestly, this is Lokesh’s film all the way. What’s important is the way Lokesh pulls off having a 2 nd rate ‘actor’ like Vijay—God only can explain to me what the hell his Tamil fans like about him—and a genius like Sethupathy and bring them together onto the cinematic platform. This is a 178- minute film. At close to the 100th minute is the interval, and that’s when Bhavani and JD talk—over the phone—for the first time. There is an outstanding masala scene when JD holds Bhavani at the throat by a pen in his den and orders him to warn Bhavani to stay out of the kids’ lives. [Man, Amitabh owns masala like the big daddy of the industry; look at the similarities and how finely Lokesh subverted the scene; ‘saamne aa, ilaaka tumhara hai’ versus ‘attacking from behind’.] The first time they face-off each other is 168 minutes into the film. You almost have a ‘Heat’ moment here but in a complete masala mode. There are superb touches when JD goes into his drunken mode and tries to narrate to teachers, sweepers, college-staff about his so-called failed love story, picking up scenes from Kamal Haasan’s or Rajinikanth’s film: Hell, he doesn’t even spare the Titanic. The first time that you see JD coming to the center with his shirt tucked in is after he gives up alcohol. Before that, there is a technically shot superb scene where alcohol is being poured into a washbasin with the camera pointed upward. Fine technical stuff, this. Lokesh also has old Tamil songs playing in the background. [I cannot comment on that, since I don’t understand the language and the cultural context and connect to the scenes. Only folks belonging to the state can explain that.] There is a superbly shot barber-shop scene where a kid saves a woman/heroine through a video-conferencing call on the iPhone. It is hilarious, and painful at the same time. Now again, this is what I admired in the film: when one feels that this is getting too much, Lokesh dares to rein in the ‘masala’ elements. It is almost like the scene in ‘Baazi’ where Aamir hood-winks the troublemakers. Everyone knows what masala is; too much of masala spoils the broth. Lokesh clearly understands that: As well, he cannot go with too much class/seriousness. It is here that he falls a little, and the main reason for that is Vijay. He is such a bad ‘actor’, but such-a pull in Tamil Nadu that one just cannot avoid inserting his ‘antics’ in the name of ‘acting.’ Until JD joins the reformatory institution, it is all about him getting drunk, dancing trade-markedly stupidly to please his fans, and wiggling his ass. [Well, why am I complaining, we have our own ‘Bhai’ here.] There is a lovely scene where Setupathi is taking a bath and his hair is shaped like a demon; with two horns. This is the scene where he is talking about killing all the people JD know one by one. Lokesh has to manage the expectations of Vijay’s fans – so ridiculous lines that would only appeal to Tamil fans of his are dove-tailed: There are zillions of people who like me outside – or so he claims! Also, consider how Lokesh takes the introductory scene of Bhavani trying to explain the difference between working for loyalty and working for ‘money.’ Look at how it defeats him in the end when his hench man Das [who looks like a lost-twin of the Kannada actor Sudeep] turns on him.

Technically, the film is outstandingly shot. Of course, Lokesh has proved his technical caliber in ‘ Kaithi ’. There’s a brilliant action scene in the end on a lonely, deserted highway stretch shot in pitch-dark with only the headlights glaring and Andrea Jeremiah impersonating Charlize Theron. Of course, this is no George Miller’s Charlize but within the technical confines of the Indian film industry, this is superbly shot. The aerial cinematography when JD drives to Nagercoil from Madras finely captures the bridges and the landscape. 

Coming to the performances, Vijay, as I said, is pathetic and I have no sympathy for him. And I understand masala very well. I hate the south-style masala and am allergic to it. He is a product of that hero-worshipping. If you have watched one Vijay film, you have watched it all. He is supposed to be an alcoholic; seriously? If he had watched ‘Sharaabi’ or ‘Mili’ a couple of times, he would have at-least scored some positive marks. Well, it is foolish of me to compare this fellow to Bachchan. So, I accept my mistake. 

Setupathi is tremendous. He is so menacing in his ‘casual’ performance as a ‘villain’ with no redemption factor built-in into his actions that it is chilling. What an actor-star! He winces, he talks and doesn’t even flinch an eyelid when he murders kids. This is a knock-out performance from him. With zero looks, how he manages to bring the evil out of him is simply wondrous. Lokesh and Setupathi and the kids save the film and make it an above-average film. Definitely recommended.


9 Responses to “An Jo on the real Master – Lokesh Kanagaraj”

  1. Very well written An Jo.


  2. “I hate the south-style masala and am allergic to it.” – isn’t commercial Tamil cinema slightly more refined than the pungent Telugu commercial cinema (calling Murugadoss India’s Nolan notwithstanding).


  3. Very well written. Given the star system in TN, we have to give credit to Vijay for attempting something like this. Of course the downside is that his so called acting skills gets exposed.


    • Thanks Latha. It is not something great Vijay has done, since barring a couple of scenes where he lets the script win rather than him, he is the same Vijay.

      Sometimes I wonder how it would have been if Lokesh had worked with someone like Surya or Dhanush…these two have definitely tried something out of the star-system boundaries of Tamil Nadu…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am in awe of Vijay for his amazing stardom.
        Never thought that someone can guarantee a blockbuster by his presence so easily and since last 10 years


      • Saw Master finally.
        Agree with most of the review. Felt Vijay was good in his star appeal and acted well in key scenes. He uses his screen presence (small screen doesnt do justice) and innocent face to look unpredictable.
        The film drops in pace post interval and only picks up with Master visits Bhavani.
        The scene where he captures Bhavani from behind and makes him repeat his message is my best sequence of the movie. Total masala.

        Overall 3.5/5. Superhit.


  4. I also liked Sarkaar where ARM attempted something different. However unlike Lokesh he doesn’t dare to offend the fans, so the movie ends up being a very generic one but the first half is good.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: