Maharaj 2024 Movie Review

BOTTOM LINE
Aamir’s Son Falls Flat

RATING
1.75/5

PLATFORM
NETFLIX


What Is the Film About?

Karsandas Mulji is a forthright journalist who’s never afraid to ask uncomfortable questions, even if it severs ties with his beloved. Shattered by the mysterious death of his fiancé Kishori, the youngster, who has batted for women’s rights and social reform throughout his life, takes on a godman Maharaj who misuses his authority to prey on young women.

Performances

Karsandas is indeed a role with immense potential and it’s a shame that it’s Bollywood-ised without a distinctive identity. Understandably, there’s no trace of vulnerability or human-ness in Junaid Khan’s performance. He’s too conscious and stiff to play an inspirational figure who leads life as an example. His performance is either bland most of the time or lifeless—forget about any memorable moments. One can’t help but wonder how a performer like Aamir Khan, with such high standards, allowed his son to take up such an ambitious role when he is not even remotely ready. Shalini Pandey in her brief appearance is irresistibly charming.

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Sharvari’s Viraaj starts with great promise, only to be reduced to a funky female caricature shortly. If there’s a performance that holds together Maharaj through its highs and lows, it’s undoubtedly Jaideep Ahlawat as the menacing, shrewd titular character. None of the supporting characters get to make a solid impact.


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Analysis

Maharaj, which feels like a spiritual prequel to Ashram and Sirf Ek Bandaa Hai, is a timely reminder that incidents surrounding fake godmen and sexual misconduct aren’t a thing of today. Loosely inspired by Saurabh Shah’s book of the same name, based on the Maharaj Libel Case of 1862, the direct-to-OTT film aims to be a reverential tribute to the heroics of an unsung social reformer.

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If intent was the only criterion in judging a film’s worth, there’s not much to complain about Maharaj. It looks back at an important time in history, a pre-independent India where being woke wasn’t an option. Religion, much like today, was being used as a divisive tool by the British (and the citizens too) and self-proclaimed godmen thwarted any attempt to question their misdeeds.

In the film, a dialogue in a courtroom sequence aptly reflects the psyche of a predatory godman. “I don’t need to tell the truth..what I say becomes the truth,” Maharaj says while justifying the influence he wields on the masses. Unsurprisingly, we haven’t learnt much from history. Despite the potential in the film’s material, the one-note storytelling in Maharaj is quite a dampener.

As a storyteller, Siddharth P Malhotra has quite a challenge in recreating a 162-year-old legal battle on the screen without CCTV footage, DNA tests and forensic examinations. While limiting the legal drama in the film to the last half an hour, Maharaj is more an account of the various roadblocks that Karsandas needs to overcome while exposing a godman.

Though Maharaj isn’t technically a biopic of Karsandas, it largely summarises the causes that he stood up for. Like most life sketches in Hindi, the film doesn’t take enough time to flesh out the protagonist’s personality fully – every character trait is underlined to justify his need to be a social reformer. Beyond his rebellious ways and heroics, you don’t get to discover him as a human through the story.

The narrative is mostly on auto-pilot mode, it just doesn’t pause and shifts from one event to the other mechanically. There are very few challenges that affect Karsandas – he remains unmoved, come what may. (or was this Junaid Khan’s acting ‘skills’?) Both the protagonists – Maharaj and Karsandas – are depicted as cardboard-like characters who cease to be interesting after a while.

The drama, but for the climax, rarely has a boiling point – the treatment is dull and lacks imagination. The ‘hero’ delivers a sermon on the need to confine religion to one’s personal spaces and all’s well. As a film, Maharaj is wary of not offending any ‘religious and cultural’ sentiments, but like its protagonist, the makers needed more courage and spine to tell a powerful story sans filters.

Majaraj begins well, but soon the interest dips and never recovers. The emotions and drama fall flat despite an interesting core plot. Overall, it’s a forgettable and disappointing debut for Aamir’s son, Junaid Khan.


Performances by Others Actors

Karsandas is indeed a role with immense potential and it’s a shame that it’s Bollywood-ised without a distinctive identity. Understandably, there’s no trace of vulnerability or human-ness in Junaid Khan’s performance. He’s too conscious and stiff to play an inspirational figure who leads life as an example. Shalini Pandey in her brief appearance is irresistibly charming.

Sharvari’s Viraaj starts with great promise, only to be reduced to a funky female caricature shortly. If there’s a performance that holds together Maharaj through its highs and lows, it’s undoubtedly Jaideep Ahlawat as the menacing, shrewd titular character. None of the supporting characters get to make a solid impact.


Music and Other Departments?

Periodic films are never about their events alone, Maharaj’s ambience, 1860s Mumbai are devoid of any life. The costumes and set pieces feel like leftovers from a Sanjay Leela Bhansali shoot. The music fares slightly better but doesn’t truly elevate the scope of the sequences. The 131-minute length is crisp at the cost of being one-dimensional and monotonous.


Highlights?

Jaideep Ahlawat’s performance

Tells a story relevant to the times

The legal drama in the penultimate 30 minutes

Drawbacks?

One note, dull storytelling

Poorly fleshed-out characters

Unimaginative characterisation


Did I Enjoy It?

No

Will You Recommend It?

Only for its educative value




Maharaj 2024 Netflix Movie Review by M9