A still from Maharaja Image Credit: IMDB

No spoilers ahead:

Would you go to the police to file a missing object report if your old trash can was stolen? Probably not. But the seemingly powerless barber, Maharaja (Sethupathi), is unwilling to let this small thing slide. He sets out to hunt down his old, dented metallic dustbin before his teenage daughter, Jyothi, returns from her sports camp. The doting single father even agrees to reward the police officer with a handsome sum of money if his bin is retrieved. As far as premises go, it’s one of the most novel ones since Mohanlal’s nail-biting thriller "Drishyam," and Sethupathi flies with it.

Director Nithilan Swaminathan does a neat job of crafting a slow-burn whodunit thriller with a hero who isn’t indefatigable at its core. He’s vulnerable, wounded, and enraged in equal measure.

Vijay Sethupathi in 'Maharaja', out in UAE cinemas now

The first half of the film shows Maharaja being ridiculed and roughed up in equal measure by the law enforcement authorities. While I am not a fan of glorifying police brutality and passing it off for cheap, comic thrills, the movie improves vastly in the second half, shedding its flippant tone.

It picks up pace and ends up being one of the most disturbing, enigmatic, and visceral watches of 2024. The labyrinth route that director Swaminathan opts for might feel tiresome, but stay with this film until the very end and you may feel gratified.

Sethupathi is in blistering form as the hapless dad Maharaja.


With great economy in expressions, he plays the emotional and violent scenes with such aplomb. In the hands of a less gifted actor, it would have become over-dramatic. But with Sethupathi, you see an accomplished actor who isn’t keen to impress but wants his viewers to feel his pain, pathos, and punitive rage.

The same can't be said about Bollywood director and producer Anurag Kashyap who has been handed a complex and morally reprehensible role of a thief. He falters in the dialogue-heavy scenes. Perhaps Tamil not being his native language could have played spoilsport. But in a few sinister scenes, he manages to hold steady. For instance, the dark sequence in which he ravenously eats rice and chicken curry at homes that he targets is chilling, while his mates go about brutalizing the occupants of the home. Kashyap is more more worried about getting all the meat of the bone, than his bestial buddies going on a rampage.

While the film may come across as a hero-led thriller, Sachana Namidass as Maharaja’s spirited daughter Jyothi, Abhirami as Kashyap’s wife, and Mamta Mohandas as Jyothi’s teacher leave a strong impression.

Without giving the plot away, there’s enough meat to keep this whodunit going. Be warned, the violence is hardly gratuitous. Was it absolutely necessary to show body parts being chopped or hands being sawed? Maybe not. But the grotesque twists in the plot might make the viewing more palatable. Many scene in the beginning might leave you confused, but it all ties well towards the end. Think of it like a puzzle that takes time to come together. At no point does the director or the writers take the audience for granted and they refrain from spoon-feeding their viewers. Even the police force, initially shown as a bunch of buffoons, throw a few surprises.

Vijay Sethupathi in 'Maharaja'

This is Sethupathi’s 50th film in his career, and he makes sure that it’s a memorable one. While a dustbin, a utilitarian contraption to hold waste, isn’t given much respect in society, you may reconsider its place in our life after this film. The dustbin doesn’t feel as trivial or absurd, just like how this film grew on us – bit by bit.

This is one film that should never be binned, by anyone. 

Our star rating:
Film: Maharaja
Language: Tamil
Director: Nithilan Swaminathan
Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Anurag Kashyap, Mamta Mohandas
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Don't Miss It!

'Maharaja' is out in UAE cinemas now