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Maharaj Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Last updated on: June 22, 2024 14:48 IST
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Maharaj's mediocre social drama lacks the spine and spunk to recreate the relevance of revolutionary decisions in the face of religious fanaticism, observes Sukanya Verma.

It's rare for a star son to come out with a debut in a manner as lowkey as Junaid Khan's Maharaj.

Yet, Aamir Khan's son's first film, produced by one of the premier banners of Hindi film industry Yash Raj Films, is bereft of the pomp and fanfare that accompanies launchpads without as much as a teaser, forget word-of-mouth, to announce its presence.

Perhaps its premise, inspired by the Maharaj libel case of 1862 argued at the court in (back then) Bombay made it imperative for its makers and platform to underplay its existence.

Seeing the objections and delay in its release after a legal petition was filed by followers of the Vaishnavite Pustimargi sect resulting in a stay order exactly one day before it was to drop on Netflix as originally planned on June 14, their caution wasn't entirely unfounded.

A week later, Maharaj's intentions of retelling a real-life case has the last word and the movie is available for all to stream and see.

Much ado about nothing, really.


Directed by Siddharth P Malhotra, Maharaj's mediocre social drama lacks the spine and spunk to recreate the relevance of revolutionary decisions in the face of religious fanaticism.

In the tradition of PK, Ashram, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai. the idea is to lay bare the blind devotion of bhakts as well as the unchallenged exploitation at the hands of Godmen against the backdrop of 19th century Hinduism.

What unfolds though is a jaded, wobbly commentary that has the mind of a monotonous television serial and the face of a mainstream Bollywood masala.

It is essentially a conflict of David versus Goliath magnitude between righteous rage and spiritual narcissism.

Vipul Mehta's adaptation of Saurabh Shah's Gujarati novel starts out by reformist journalist Karsan Das Mulji's 'krantikari soch' (Junaid Khan) noting the wrongdoings within the ashram, addressed as haveli by its devotees.

The devotees include Karsan's family and fiancée (Shalini Pandey, reinforcing herself in a regressive stereotype), willingly offering themselves to their guru Yadunath or JJ (Jaideep Ahlawat) as everyone calls the man.

But Maharaj's aesthetic depiction of inappropriate practices branded as 'charan seva' neither fully shames JJ's sexual predator nor explains his grip over his followers.

Jaideep Ahlawat's charisma looms large but the writing fails to capitalise on his menace beyond a smug cardboard figure.

When Karsan learns about his betrothed's betrayal, the scenario takes the discomforting shape of 'my patriarchy is better than yours' as he goes about blaming his girl and guru in the vein of a petulant child.

By the time he comes around to protesting in an adult fashion by collaborating with the icons of the time, Maharaj has fizzled out on all fronts.

History's heroes like Dadabhai Naoroji and Bhau Daji Lad are reduced to costume-y nondescript figures to accommodate Sharvari's vintage style and flirtatious activist lest the hero feels arm candy-less for too long.

Treating a serious period drama as fluff by stuffing it with distractions of song, dance and romance, Maharaj neither looks like it belongs in the British Raj nor wants to.

When the token English faces do show up at the fag end of is flippant courtroom battle, Karsan's moderately expressed criticism of representatives of religion not to be mistaken for religion itself loses its vigour around the scandalous revelations of JJ's sexual ailments.

Maharaj's shortcomings would be less noticeable under some dazzling leadership. But newcomer Junaid has a long way to go.

He has a statuesque quality and his dad's smile but cannot convey any emotions beyond huff and puff.

Looks like that's the only reaction Maharaj is capable of eliciting.

Maharaj streams on Netflix.

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