Mathagam Series Review: Interesting characters can't save this incomplete season
The promos of Mathagam hinted at a story of a virtuous man and a sinful man facing off against each other. However, the series gets a contrasting opening, focussed on a postnatal mother Vaidehi (Nikhila Vimal) sharing a tender moment with her workaholic husband DCP Ashwath (Atharvaa). She hugs him tight and says, "I miss your smell," and they go on to discuss her post-patrum depression, his lactose intolerance, and their baby's moro reflex. All these feel organic, and the lack of urgency in the narrative bodes well too. It is a rather confident move from director Prasath Murugesan to have this as the series' cold open, and it works brilliantly. It is so good that we are almost convinced that nothing can derail this series, which seemingly adds enough depth to its world, and weaves finesse to its characters. Well, it eventually does thanks to the overstretched plot.
Cast: Atharvaa, Manikandan, Nikhila Vimal, Dhivyadarshini
Director: Prasath Murugesan
Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar
The entire narrative of Mathagam revolves around a birthday party organised by Manikandan's Padaalam Sekar (a) Thimingalam. We see him meticulously prepare for the big day and invite every goon in the city to pass on a 'plan' to them that could potentially put every civilian in danger. On the other hand, Ashwath and his team are trying to thwart Sekar's plans. So naturally the spice in the tale lies in knowing what the 'party' is actually about and what the 'plan' would unleash. However, in the five-episode-first-season, all we get is a teaser of what could be in store. This feels extremely frustrating when even the streaming announcement of the series read, "The party has begun!", while it actually doesn't.
The move of the streamers or creators to withhold the rest of the crucial episodes for a 'part-2 of the season-1' sabotages the efforts of the content on offer. The fact that the final episode ends in a dull, unsuspecting moment, akin to the forced intermissions we get in English films in our Indian theatres, leaves us terribly disappointed. It feels extremely odd to think that the series which takes the strain to beautifully underline the rift between a lived-in couple and the struggles of a postpartum mother doesn't bother to get us excited about the crime world it is built on.
Though the intriguing main characters and their arcs almost make up for the shortcomings in the wafer-thin plot, the idea of introducing a side character every tenth minute becomes quite overwhelming soon. This approach would be better relished in a longer format narrative spread out across 20-something episodes. But when the total runtime is around the three-hour mark, all the effort that has gone into the detailing of these tonally different characters only works against the intrigue and leaves us restless.
While Prasath's approach of extracting subtle performances from his actors elevates Mathagam from run-of-the-mill OTT content, the occasional moments where they switch into manufactured punchlines stick out badly. Manikandan, who has been the go-to face for innocent roles, delivers a convincing portrayal as the brain-over-brawn gangster. Nikhila Vimal delivers a stand-out performance, and it is quite delectable to see her glide through the layers of her character with absolute ease.
Mathagam means the forehead of an elephant. A forehead that is strong enough to bring down armies and towers. However, this season, which has a solid start fizzles out soon enough that it feels like an incomplete painting of an elephant, which has a perfectly detailed and well-drawn head but ends up with a sketchy, rushed-up, and half-hearted body.