This is why he begins Master by establishing the myth of his antagonist Bhavani (Vijay Sethupathi). A teenager who is sent to an observation home by the powerful men who had killed his family, Bhavani becomes the very thing that the system doesn’t want juveniles to become – a ruthless monster. In one scene, Lokesh even see shows him sporting horns! And he exploits the very system that has made him so, by using juveniles as pawns to establish his criminal enterprise.
This sets up the stage nicely for his protagonist JD (Vijay) to make his entrance. In fact, in classic masala movie fashion, JD’s introduction comes right after a character wonders if they would be able to get a brave man to fix things and save the boys from a life of crime.
JD is a professor in a college in Chennai… the kind of professor who has a hip flask ready in his pocket, an advice ready on his lips and a kada ready in his arm for a punch! Naturally, the students adore him, and the management wants to get rid of him. And circumstances lead him to sign up for a teaching role at the observation home, where Bhavani runs the show.
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Can this man, who has managed to create a following among youngsters through love, overcome the ghosts of his past and find it in himself to take on the criminal, who has built an army of youngsters through fear?
Just like Petta, Master sees a new-age filmmaker trying his hand at commercial cinema with a mass hero. Lokesh Kanagaraj manages to pass the test, even if Master is more a Vijay film than a Lokesh Kanagaraj film. What Lokesh brings to the film is filmmaking flair. The scenes featuring the hero and the villain have distinct visual tones – cool blues for JD and fiery red for Bhavani. There are some cool shots, like an overhead shot that shows the correctional facility divided by sunlight and darkness, with JD in the sunlit area. He succeeds in building up the aura around his star with effective references from Vijay’s previous hits. A kabaddi scene set inside the juvenile home is a great throwback to Ghilli (Anirudh’s use of the Ghilli theme recalls a similar approach from Darbar). The pre-intermission portion is a callback to the famous Thuppakki scene.
But for some reason, the film feels less punchy that it sounds on paper. The plot points are at times too familiar – like the pre-intermission scenes, where you know the punch that is going to bring up the intermission (a nod to Thuppakki), or the familiar trope of the villain going after the hero’s loved ones after being rattled (another sequence that harks back to Thuppakki). The action sequences, which have been a highlight in Lokesh’s previous films, are kind of overlong here. One particular sequence, involving JD and his former classmate Vanathi (Andrea) weilding bow and arrows, hardly offers any thrill. For contrast, you only have to look at a similar night-time chase in the director’s previous film, Kaithi.
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The film is also overlong with the college portions involving JD hardly offering emotional highs. While not giving a flashback for JD seems clever (especially given the already lengthy running time), given the song and dance the film makes about his drinking, the reason behind JD’s alcoholism needed to be established strongly. We get a whole bunch of supporting characters in this segment (actors like Andrea, Shanthnu, Gouri Kishan and Sriman make just more than fleeting appearances), but they are hardly significant. Even the female lead, Malavika Mohanan’s Charulatha isn’t a strong presence.
In the end, it is the charismatic performances of Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi that keeps us rooting. Vijay dances like a dream, and puts his coolth to good effect in the college scenes. He also manages to sell the moments when he has to offer advice. With many heroes, these portions might have come across as preachy, but here, they just feel right. And Vijay Sethupathi manages to steal the show. His casual acting style only elevates Bhavani’s cruelty – even though it is tonally removed from the fabulous intensity with which Mahendran plays the character’s teenaged self. The final confrontation between the two actors has a couple of rousing moments, helping end the film on a high note.