Opinion: The problem with Karthick Naren’s Mafia

From an audience standpoint, Mafia is fun, but that’s not enough. It was supposed to be more than an engaging watch. Maybe- had any other filmmaker or a debutant made this film, it would have been labeled a fairly entertaining thriller with a promising voice to look out for, but considering Karthick Naren is associated with the film, it is an remarkably disappointing affair. This may be a classic case of hype bringing down the content. Karthick Naren, the filmmaker who debuted at 22, created a trademark for himself with Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, a sleek, edge-of-the-seat mystery, but I feel that he mistook the success of his first film. Yes, Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru was an extremely stylish film. But it’s not just its style that craved a niche for itself. The stylish and svelte making was only the garnish of a strong and deeply investing story. While Mafia scores high on the style front, it lags by miles on the writing front, which actually made Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru what it is, and branded Karthick Naren with the kind of filmmaking that he is associated with. 

I say this again, Mafia is not terrible. Repeating myself, had someone else made this, it would have been called a reasonably enjoyable film. It still is. Some might still find it entertaining. The problem with Mafia starts here: It’s extremely basic. Despite the disguise of a gangster crime thriller, it is quite generic with oversimplified writing. A plain and simple narrative is not what it aspires to be. The ambition, energy, and enthusiasm are indisputable. It longes to be enormous both on ideas and scale, but sadly, falls drastically short on both the fronts. 

From plot to dialogue, from visual language to the screenplay, everything is pretty simple yet tolerable but misses the layering or grandeur. Do note that by grandeur, I do not mean the glossy visuals or display of high budget. It is about how rich the film is with its writing and layering. Looking back at Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, you can decipher it as a film about a father trying to protect his son. Free of its brilliantly done murder mystery, there were emotional highs in that film the kept us invested in the story. Let it be Deepak explaining Delhi Ganesh’s characters that his son is dead, or the complete final confrontation between Deepak and Gautam, the film had high stakes given that the atmosphere it relies on, is quite lean on the scale. 

Coming to Mafia, there is absolutely no hindrance when it comes to the scale but there is a severe lack of depth and layering. The character motivations never transcend beyond one-line descriptions. The core subject itself is not novel in Tamil cinema. Drug smuggling has been a subplot in various masala films so far. So, when you mount an entire script around it, there should be something new and exciting, and here, there is absolutely none. Students being addicts, the narco officers chasing the sellers and the ones above in the hierarchy, is quite hackneyed. Also, mind it-predictability is the thriller’s biggest antagonist. Terms like ‘consignment’, ‘syndicate’ network’ and ‘code’ names serve no purpose other than the writer striving to paint an international feel to subject. 

The villain.

The complete second half of the film wheels around the protagonist, Aryan, trying to protect his family members, who are kidnapped by the designer-suit-wearing-antagonist, who to the world appears as a businessman but indeed is a crime lord. His name is Siddharth Abhimanyu. I’m sorry, Diwakar Kumaran, it is. Although the stakes seem high in the initial few moments of the second half, you get a sense that when the sequence is being prolonged beyond a period, eventually the hero will save them. Where is the tension? 

There is a terrible shortage of originality in Mafia. The film wants to be cool but it’s too much in the face. Let it be the usage of colors which are evidently red when the villain is on screen, or the t-shirts worn by drug addicts, they are too cringy intended to give you a trippy feel. Do drug addicts really where t-shirts that have designs printed on them which look like a cross between eye illusions and weed-art? I don’t know.

This is exactly how their shirts look.

Even Aryan’s ringtone is Narcos’ theme music. Is that supposed to be an homage or a joke? I found it unintentionally funny. I mean, come on! A police officer wouldn’t set Singham’s theme as his phone’s ring tone. That’d be a bloody joke.

Karthick Naren’s ambition is visible. He wants to create a universe but that universe has nothing unique about it, and that’s the issue. I guess that’s the issue or I should stop comparing every filmmaker’s work to their best work.

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