‘Maharaj’ Movie Recap & Ending Explained: Why Did Kishori Commit Suicide?

Maharaj is not to be confused with Vijay Sethupathi’s latest outing in the film Maharaja, which was released last week. The new YRF production, which is also a Netflix India original, titled Maharaj, is based on a real-life character from the 1800s in pre-independent India. Social reformer Karsan Das Mulji was trying to make some changes in his society that included religious and social alterations without hurting the sentiments of his community and others. His case against a supremely influential religious leader forms the crux of the film. It could be compared to Oh My God films, but this one was rather sensitively handled.


Spoilers Ahead

Who was Karsan Das?

Karsan Das was a young journalist who had grown up in Bombay in the 1830s. He belonged to the conservative Vaishnava sect of the Gujarati community, devoted to Lord Krishna. Karsan Das, from childhood, was known to have asked questions about religious rituals and was deemed to be a pragmatic Hindu who was looking for answers. Karsan was the most educated of the lot and wanted to change their community. He tried to promote progressive ideas, which included educating and encouraging women to be independent. He made sure his fiancée, Kishori, finished her education before the two got married to one another.


Who was Jadunath Maharaj?

The sect Karsan Das belonged to had a religious leader, Jadunath Maharaj, known to people as Maharaj or JJ. The man was a major decision-maker in the community, with many followers willing to take his words seriously. However, he was also a serial sexual predator, and the news had yet to come out. He was known to carry out the ritual of Charan Seva, which involved young women, including minors, being received at his haveli, which was supposed to be a sanctum. Maharaj resorted to physical relationships and, at times, raped women, claiming they were offering him a service. Maharaj had also gotten a woman named Leelavati pregnant, and though her brother had pleaded with the godman to accept the child and Leelavati as his wife, he forced her to get an abortion done. 

Why did Karsan break his engagement with Kishori?

Karsan was shocked when Kishori was chosen for Charan seva, which she considered auspicious, while Karsan found it a vile practice. Karsan was uncomfortable to find out this ritual included the young girls having to sleep with Maharaj, and as a result, Kishori had done the same. This caused a major disagreement between the couple, and it eventually led to Karsan breaking off the engagement, citing that the situation could have been avoided if she had not agreed to do the Charan seva ritual. He was also asked to leave his home for his progressive belief system, which included talking about making widow remarriage a reality. 


Why Did Kishori commit suicide?

Kishori was horrified to find out Maharaj was planning to do the Charan seva ritual with her younger sister as well. Soon she understood Karsan’s words were true. She was finally ready to believe Maharaj was only taking advantage of young girls and women to fulfill his desire. Maharaj was a married man, but his power and influence were such that no one would question his demands. Maharaj’s assistant, Giridhar Khawas, was devout and blindly followed the orders. Out of pure shame and guilt over having fallen for Maharaj’s tricks and words and realizing he was only a fraud, she had no way to prove him wrong. As a result, Kishori committed suicide. 

What made Karsan Das write an article against Maharaj?

Karsan Das was deeply affected by Kishori’s death, and he soon realized Maharaj may have sexually exploited many women from the community in the name of faith. He was a journalist and offered a write-up on the Maharaj, which was considered blasphemous by the editor-in-chief, who refused to publish it. As a result, Karsan opened his own newspaper, The Satya Prakash, a Bombay-based Gujarati daily. The article created waves across the city, especially in the community of staunch followers of Maharaj. The self-proclaimed godman tried every trick up his sleeve to put Karsan Das on the back foot, but every time, the young man came out victorious with his logical thinking. His speeches only questioned Maharaj and not the faith, which impressed many men and women who chose to stand by him. One of them was Viraaj, a Gujarati-speaking lady seeking a job at his newspaper.


Was Viraaj in love with Karsan?

Viraaj, a young woman, was carried away by Karsan Das’s speech and immediately confessed her love for him within a few days of joining his workplace. However, Karsan Das was not keen on getting married because he was focused on his goal and working on reforms for his society. He was also keen on exposing Maharaj and the crimes against women he committed behind the large haveli where he lived. 

Why did Maharaj file a defamation case?

After failing to put up a fight against Karsan using the people of his community, Maharaj’s last resort was to file a defamation case against Karsan Das and his newspaper, claiming the young man had written blasphemous and false articles about the godman. He claimed this affected his image and wanted rupees 50,000 as compensation for the damage done. Maharaj was being cocky at this point, and he hoped Karsan Das would back away and publish an apology in the newspaper. This would have been a moral defeat for Karsan Das as per the godman, but the young journalist was not willing to back away. He wanted to fight the case. As a result, the man who considered himself to be larger than life would be exposed through the trial. 

What was the evidence gathered by Karsan?

Karsan got hold of Leelavati, the woman who was carrying Maharaj’s child. It turned out she did not go ahead with the abortion thanks to Maharaj’s wife, Vahuji, who helped the siblings escape the city. A heavily pregnant Leelavati and her brother were ready to testify against Maharaj in court. Vahuji’s help would also indicate her need to decimate the godman who had begun to hurt many women in the name of faith, power, and influence. Karsan was also excited to know Dr. Ramachandra Vitthal Lad, aka Dr. Bhau Daji Lad, who was the physician taking care of Maharaj, had also agreed to testify against the godman to talk about his health issues. Karsan and Viraaj were happy to have received enough support to fight against the godman, and they hoped this would help them break his power in the city. 

What happened in court?

A day before the case went on trial, Maharaj forced Leelavati to marry his assistant Giridhar Khawas and arm-twisted her into making her say the baby was his and not the godman’s. It was assumed her brother was murdered for choosing to stand up against Maharaj. Karsan Das was dejected, but he had not lost hope because he was adamant about wanting to defeat the godman and show the world his true picture, as his antics had nothing to do with faith. At court, Maharaj arrived on a chariot resembling Lord Krishna, the deity he and his community worshiped. The followers were in awe of his presence and considered him to be the god and not merely his messenger. This stunt was pulled off as a display of his strength to the court, who were initially wary of the number of followers present and thought it might breed a riot-like situation. 


Maharaj refused to get up from the throne-like chair installed in the courtroom. As expected, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad testified and claimed he had diagnosed Maharaj with syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease he caught by having intercourse with multiple partners. There was a chance he might have given this disease to many other women in the community. Ignoring the doctor’s request, the man had continued having sexual escapades just to keep his fantasies alive. Sadly, none of the evidence put forward by Karsan could be used as it was deemed inconclusive. Maharaj countered every question that was thrown at him. Adding to his answers was the show of power from the loyal followers, who at every junction would chant the name of Maharaj and Lord just to disrupt the trial proceedings and let the judges know of the consequences of delivering a verdict against the godman. 

Were the defamation charges against Karsan Das Mulji removed?

Karsan was finally asked to appear to answer questions regarding his article. Karsan, being himself, gave a detailed monologue on how people like Maharaj do not separate themselves from faith. He pointed out that faith had nothing to do with the crimes Maharaj was carrying out, as he was only fooling and exploiting many in the name of God. Karsan was an atheist, but that did not mean he did not respect the faith he had been raised in. The whole point of his statement and the article was to let people know their need to put their faith aside and try to see people as human beings and not gods. The whole speech was an allegory for the current times when people tend to get offended over tiny matters concerning any faith. It was enlightening to watch our country face the same concerns regarding faiths over 150 years ago. 


Karsan’s speech would remind people not to equate faith with a person who used it to his benefit over the years to exploit women. The exploitation of women touched a nerve with many women in the court, and they chose to come forward, including Karsan’s sister-in-law as well. Many women came forward with stories of sexual misconduct, including rape, which would remind people of a certain candidate for Parliament being accused of something similar. It was appalling to comprehend that the crimes against women in India are still widespread; thankfully, laws have gotten stronger. Piled accusations helped Karsan as the defamation case was thwarted by the court, which suggested the criminal proceeding begin against Maharaj. This was bound to happen as Maharaj and his assistants were arrogant about the power they held and wanted to use it for their benefit. Just like any other mythological story, the good always triumph.

The movie ended with Maharaj doing the walk of shame after having lost the defamation battle. He also lost the support of his people after all the revelations about his treatment of women. It marked the end of Maharaj and his power. It also proves truth always wins, and Karsan made sure the women were given justice. This case had nothing to do with questioning religion, as no human is bigger than their faith and the deity they pray to. There were also pictures of the real case files and the memorabilia set up around Maharashtra in the name of Karsan Das and the people who helped him, including Dr. Ramachandra Vitthal Lad, aka Dr. Bhau Daji Lad.


Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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