There is no dearth of slice-of-life films in Malayalam cinema. Such stories leave the audience with a smile and sometimes with a feeling of melancholy. Bangalore Days, Ustad Hotel, Dear Friend, and Premam are some of the prime examples of films in this genre that leave a lasting impact. Master Peace is a brand-new Disney+ Hotstar miniseries that navigates the audience through two families who are related through marriage. Directed by Sreejith N., the web series was released on the streaming platform on October 25, 2023.
Master Peace is the tale of a married couple, Riya and Binoy, who are going through a rough patch personally and professionally. Adding trouble to their equation are Binoy’s mother, Aniyamma, and Riya’s father, Kuriyachan, who are adamant about trying to mend things between their children, while their partners beg them to stay out of their affairs. Riya is on the verge of launching her new dating app, Binoy is assigned as the sales head of the women’s lingerie of his company that primarily sells men’s undergarments. The concerned parents feel the matters between the couple has escalated, and they need to intervene before Riya and Binoy decide to separate and file for divorce. The couple are forced to host their parents at their home, but it ends up opening a Pandora’s box worth of issues between both their mothers and fathers. Are Riya and Binoy headed towards divorce? Will the parents be ready to face some of the uncomfortable truths shared by their children?
Master Peace, as the name suggests, is about the tranquility each character is searching for. The premise set by the director Sreejith N. and writer Praveen is interesting in the beginning. The writers take time to establish the reason for the conflict between the couple, who seem to have met on a dating app themselves. Their married life had reached a rough patch, and the writers, unfortunately, go beating around the bush to establish that. The conflict portion of the show is tedious to watch because the writing is too verbose, and the writers spend a great deal of time discussing basic issues.
The show is a satire on subjects like generational gaps, boundaries, privacy, religion, choices, and patriarchy. These topics and many others are discussed in depth by the makers and are tightly weaved into the narrative, which allows the audience to relate to them. There is a subplot involving Binoy’s mother emotionally blackmailing her son and daughter-in-law into having a kid, and this is followed by a meltdown when she learns why they cannot have one. This scenario is a common feature in many Malayali and Indian households. The generation gap is essentially the looming subject that is featured throughout the runtime of the five episodes. The father of a daughter who is used to controlling her and her mother is another figure that allows the viewers to understand how familiar this is in the context of Indian households.
The screenplay of Master Peace has no structure, as the storytelling keeps meandering and introduces characters that do not serve any importance to the main plot. There is a character introduced and dragged through an episode, only for the said person to give the couple some advice on how to make a marriage work. The storytelling goes off track as the show progresses toward its midpoint, and there is no sense of clarity from the writers or the director on what they are trying to convey.
Since the show takes place over the course of 24 hours, a lot is going on at a time between the six lead characters. Riya’s father wants her to be a staunch Christian and not indulge in hobbies that are against her religion. Meanwhile, Binoy’s mother is hell-bent on having a conservative daughter-in-law to seek approval from society. The interesting part of the story is how women become the target of families and societies. The female gender are expected to be showcased a certain way to garner respect for the rest of their lives. A woman’s life relies on the validation of people, and this expectation is debunked in a simple yet poignant manner.
The direction and production design of Master Peace, are helmed by Sreejith N. The direction of the show is adequate only in bits and pieces. The sole reason behind the disjointed direction is the stretched and aimless screenplay. The screenplay takes on a shape of its own in the last two episodes of the show. The story becomes engaging, and plenty of important revelations are made about all the leads. There are explosive arguments, honesty, and bitter truths that all of them will essentially have to live with. The writers and the director do not pass any judgment regarding the choices that these characters make. These revelations also allow the viewer to look at all of them with an empathetic eye.
The production design of the show is heavily influenced by Wes Anderson films. The tight framings, which are a common sight in Anderson’s films, are well utilized. The only matter of concern regarding the production design is the use of too many colors, and there is no symmetry in the way each scene is composed. The attempt to experiment is appreciated, but Sreejith N. has a long way to go. The cinematography by Aslam K. Purayil is dodgy in parts. It plays a crucial role in the production design and direction, but the makers lose track of its original setup.
Since the show is a satire, the comic timing seems disjointed from the narrative, and most attempts at humor do not land. The comedic dialogue only works at certain points. In the overall narrative, the humor is loud and forced. Humor was supposed to be the essential part of Master Peace, but somewhere, the storyline and the situational comedy style of the setup did not merge well. The approach taken by Master Peace felt more like a film that is divided into five parts than a miniseries.
The performances in the show are over the top, just like the screenplay and the direction. Nithya Menen and Maala Parvathi resorted to hamming throughout the show. Their character goes through a lot of emotions on the screenplay level, but the loud approach makes their performance very unpleasant. Shanti Krishna, as Riya’s mother, Lisamma, has delivered a composed performance despite her character being the quieter one of the lot who ends up making a firm decision for herself. Sharafudheen, as Binoy, is excellent as a typical man who is stuck between his ultra-conservative mother and a modern wife. He is given space to put across his point of view in the most nonjudgmental manner, and that is the highlight of his performance. Ashokan as Riya’s conservative father, and Renji Panicker, Binoy’s open-minded parent, are excellent additions to the show. Jude Anthany Joseph, as the menace causing Father Savourias, is brilliant in a cameo.
Master Peace is haphazardly made, but the satire on the dysfunctionality of families and the inherent generational gap makes the show a fun watch.