Director: Lokesh Kanagaraj
To emit: Vijay, Vijay Sethupathi, Malavika Mohanan, Shanthanu Bhagyaraj, Arjun Das, Nassar, Andrea Jeremiah
Classification: 3 stars (out of 5)
A lot of superfluity creeps into Vijay the master (the title of the Hindi version of the Tamil language of Lokesh Kanagaraj Teacher, released theatrically) and contributes to a film that feels avoidably bloated in places. It is often evident that the script by Kanagaraj, Rathna Kumar, and Pon Parthiban could have been done with a little pruning.
But with Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi going head-to-head in a thrilling thriller, and Kanagaraj orchestrating the duo with a sense of proportion that allows him to place equal importance on the two actors, the film goes over the bumps without becoming a turtle.
You know you’re in pure Vijay territory when the action hero sends a flask sliding across a subway station platform to prevent a train door from slamming shut and saving the bad guys from his wrath. You’re not supposed to be picky about the little things here. Go with the flow.
Let the contagiously energetic Vijay hum a kutti (little) story (in a wonderfully choreographed jail song) but Vijay the master it is anything but “small”. Nor is the film masterful by reckoning. This despite the sustained extravagance that Kanagaraj, editor Philomin Raj, and cinematographer Sathyan Sooryan lend to the project, which integrates easy-to-understand popular storytelling codes with a vigorously elegant structure that can bear the weight of overheated drama.
Especially striking is the way Vijay the master Play the protagonist’s arc against that of the villain as you deftly weave them through the animated rhythm of the intercalations between the two divergent worlds the duo represents.
In a crucial scene from the film’s ‘turning point’, one of the two men says to the other: “I’m not telling you anything new, but listen to me, I’m waiting.” At this point there is an entire half of the movie left and we are in the mood to wait and see how the rest unfolds.
It is true that Vijay the master It doesn’t say anything new, but it’s certainly worth listening to. His action sequences abound that highlight the mental and physical characteristics of the two men. They both have a habit of smelling the lapel of their shirt between hits, but no two men are as different as the two. Vijay wears down his opponents (until he decides to turn his kada in an offensive weapon; Bhavani literally knocks them down with the power of his iron fist.
JD Sir (Vijay), an alcoholic college professor admired by his students for his quiet demeanors but disliked by leadership for his wayward nature, is an idealist, albeit seriously flawed, a loner. There is a ritual quality to everything he does, beginning with the grand entrance sequence in which Thalapathy Vijay flies into action on a subway bus and train to prevent two aberrant sons of a rich man from flying off to Canada.
Awakening JD from a drunken stupor requires a ritual of another kind, and the students at the university who have put him on suspension have to resort to musical means to revive the man. It’s not until well into the second half that the audience can find out why JD hit the bottle.
JD tells stories about aborted love affairs, but they are all taken from movies stored in his memory. He goes to the extreme of trying to accept Jack and Rose’s adventure with James Cameron’s Titanic as his own love story.
In opposition to this noble and well-meaning vagabond is the super-evil Bhavani (Vijay Sethupathi), who, like JD, is an orphan. At 17 years old (young Bhavani is played by Mahendran), in Nagercoil, he witnesses his truck driver father and mother burned alive by rivals from the truck association.
The ruthless Bhavani, who makes his living from the transportation business, does not drink or use drugs, but runs a criminal empire that thrives by exploiting children in a government observation home through a network of accomplices inside and outside the center. No one in the observation house has seen Bhavani; he operates from the shadows.
Circumstances lead to JD taking over as a teacher for the drug addicted children. The work of reforming them is onerous. But we have a hero here who, alluding to his kabaddi player character in Ghilli, uses the game to beat up Bhavani’s men having a free run around the house. One of Bhavani’s key men is Arjun Das, who was Kanagaraj’s antagonist. Kaithi (Prisoner, 2019): a referenced fact (in Hindi) on the line “Hum toh hai waara qaidi. “
JD and Bhavani interact only three times in the course of the film’s three hours. The first conversation they have is in the middle and it is completely on a mobile phone that belongs to one of the baddie’s henchmen. The second also ends before the two can see each other’s faces. Bhavani has his back to JD, who has a sharp object on the back of the former’s neck. The third confrontation, now it is a total war, is in the climax. It takes too long to arrive, but it is a fitting ending to a classic and explosive clash between good and evil. Plus, it’s peppered with mischievous humor and is rounded off by commentary on the nature of politics and the kinds of people parties attract these days.
With Vijay not getting all the attention, it is possible that writer / director Kanagaraj will unleash the other Vijay in the cast, which in turn improves the quality of the preparation for the finale. With a villain (the man’s fist is thanks to the blows that made him rain on the wall of the observation house where he faced brutal torture on a daily basis as a teenager) prepared to bring out the best – and the hardest – of the Hero, the climactic big confrontation in a slaughterhouse – one of Bhavani’s businesses is the export of meat – is much more shocking.
The film is full of gimmicks about past productions starring Vijay himself and Kanagaraj’s avowed idol Kamal Haasan. The last movie of 1995, Nammavar, in which Kamal played a righteous college professor, is one of the inspirations behind Vijay the master.
In a backstory that Nasser (in a guest appearance) tells Charu, Selvam is mentioned as a professor JD met when he was on a loose end and benefited from the partnership. Kamal Haasan’s character in Nammavar was Professor Selvam.
There are some women in the story: Vanitha (Andrea Jeremiah, in the role of an archery champion), rookie teacher Charulatha Prasad (Malavika Mohanan, who impresses and not only because she has a better definition place in the larger scheme of things; she exudes charm and confidence) and Savitha (Gowri Kishan), a student who wins college elections against the tough campus Bhargav (Shanthnu Bhagyaraj) in a rivalry that turns into romance.
Vijay the master it’s too long, but Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi make a winning combination. Encouraged by a fantastic score by Anirudh Ravichander, here is a film that, for all its flaws, is keenly aware of the star power at its disposal and seldom sticks under its weight.