Review: MAATRAAN Is One Crazy Conjoined Mash-Up Of A Movie
Akhilan and Vimalan (both played by Suriya) are the above-mentioned conjoined twins. Vimalan is the righteous, hard working, straight-laced brother, while Akhilan is the mischievous, hard partying, good-time brother. The boys are scions to a major fortune amassed by their father, a famous former scientist who has created the world's greatest energy drink, Energion. When things start to get shady at his Locus Lacto Products factory, the brothers end up doing some detective work along with Vimalan's sweetheart, and coincidental Russian interpreter, Anjali (played by Indian starlet Kajal Agarwal, who must be among the top box office draws in the nation based upon the number of blockbusters she's been involved in lately). Things get intense when some corporate goons are sent in to silence a whistle-blower, and before you know it, all hell has broken loose.
Even for a mainstream Tamil film, Maatraan has an incredibly convoluted plot and changes from one kind of thriller before the intermission into an entirely different film afterwards. The hook, and certainly the thing that drew me in, is the idea of seeing Suriya as conjoined twins. The trailer promises fights, songs, and plenty of goofy Siamese gags. However, as is often the case, the promos are a bit of a bait and switch, as that film ends fairly abruptly at the intermission. The crazy fighting from the twins only really appears in one awkwardly photographed melee shot in an amusement park, but the footage is cut so oddly that it is tough to actually see what is going on most of the time. Nevertheless, the film has its charming moments, all of which come at the hands of the baby-faced Suriya and his digital duplicate.
Dual roles in films are very standard in Indian films, at least one blockbuster every year features characters playing more than one role. What makes Maatraan different is the idea of shooting conjoined twins, that's the thing that made me sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, it is also the thing that I was bound to spend the most my time scrutinizing on screen. To be honest, the technical wizardry involved in creating the effect isn't up to Hollywood standards, but it is pretty darned effective. There are only a few moments where the seams are visible, the rest of the time it takes a viewer really studying the effect to notice the flaws. However, the film was entertaining enough when the twins were on screen that I quit critiquing the technique and gave in to its charm most of the time.
Maatraan marks Suriya's second straight high-concept film in two years. Last year's 7aam Arivu featured the actor as the descendent of Bodhidharma in a crazy action/suspense/thriller, and it failed to deliver the kind of fulfilling experience it should have. Maatraan does a little bit better job of living up to its promise, but it unfortunately abandons one of its biggest assets at the intermission, and the second half feels very disconnected from the first because of it.
Suriya is, once again, called upon to carry the entire weight of the film on his shoulders as he is surrounded by a very one-dimensional supporting cast who add little to the experience. Kajal Agarwal is little more than a clothing rack as she appears and disappears at random throughout the first half of the film and is absent from the climax entirely. Even though she's supposed to be a legitimate love interest, we know nothing about her except that she speaks Russian, which is handy when the trail of evidence leads them to Ukraine, but apart from that is doesn't teach us much about who she is. Likewise, Sachin Khedekar as the twins' father and owner of Energion is painted with very broad strokes and doesn't evolve one iota from the beginning of the film to the end, neither does the mother, the goons, or anyone else who comes into contact with Suriya for the entire length of the film.
It isn't his fault, Suriya is the hero, and in Tamil film terms that usually means that his story is the only one that matters. However, when sent on a crusade to stop a bad guy, it's usually helpful to know something about the bad guy to humanize him, but maybe that's just my Western film brain talking. Suriya does his job admirably, even when he's a digitally composited head on the body of a stand-in, he performs pretty believably, and his charm is infectious.
The bottom line is that Maatraan is two decent films split down the middle with little connective tissue to bind them, not unlike its protagonists. Also like its protagonists, one half of the film reaches for the emotions while the other is more of a tense thriller with emotion more of less thrown to the wind. I think I liked the film, but it's going to take a second viewing to really cement my opinion. Suriya is a charmer on screen and sometimes that's enough, I know it was for me this time around, but Maatraan may crumble under the weight of its own facade upon further examination. See it at your own risk.
A quick note: Maatraan is screening in the USA with NO SUBTITLES. This is in spite of the fact that there is a credit for the subtitler in the end credits, and the woman who did those subtitles actually appears in the film a couple of times. Sorry, Rekhs, we didn't get them. Luckily for me, I saw the film with a Tamil friend who was able to fill me in on the details when things got wordy.