The OTT space is filled with police procedural dramas. We have seen serial killer and murder investigation dramas that showcase cops as regular people who have a life outside of their jobs. Then there are commercial releases that demonize the police force. Adding to this list is Mathagam, which loosely translates to the head of a person, animal, or object. Directed by Prasad Murugesan, the show is a Tamil-language Disney+ Hotstar special that was released on August 18th, 2023.
Mathagam Part 1, which includes five episodes, takes us through a long operation carried out by Ashwath and his boss, the city commissioner, to go after the dreaded criminal Padalam Sekar. He allegedly died in a car crash, but the police received information from the unlikeliest of sources about the man being alive.
They learn that Padalam Sekar is slyly gathering the entire Chennai underworld under one roof without disclosing his agenda. Ashwath is hell-bent on capturing Sekar, who is called “The Whale” by his associates. The first part covers the entire operation, which goes through its ups and downs leading up to the actual event. Under the guise of a birthday party for one of their criminal associates, we get to see the build-up to the big event and the police trying their best to catch up to them. Apart from the operation, the family dynamics of both the top cops are on full display.
The setup of Mathagam is interesting because, right from the beginning, we get to see the lead protagonist, Ashwath, as a character who is instantly unlikable. Even though he projects himself to be the hero who is on the lookout for the most dreaded criminal, we get to see him in a different light. The screenplay of Mathagam is well constructed for a narrative that introduces many characters through the five episodes. Most of the criminals who gather at the birthday party are introduced with their names and the crimes they have committed over the years, presented in the style of a criminal history sheet. It does feel like the makers are trying to glorify these criminals.
The screenplay compellingly presents the story. Unfortunately, the narrative is stalled by the slow pacing. To fit in all the characters of the show coupled with their back stories, the writers take plenty of time to get to the climax, which is the ‘birthday party.’ The police operation to gather as much information as they can through phone tracking and other technology seems too far-fetched. Most of their operations go their way, which seems a bit convenient. In reality, carrying out a major operation such as this would take a lot of time. It requires officers who are motivated to take down the criminals.
The writing of Mathagam points to the rampant corruption, going all the way up to the state cabinet, proving that the citizens have nowhere to go. In a lot of cases, even police officers are on the payroll of these ministers who support these criminals. It is implied at a lot of points in the show that Padalam Sekar is more powerful than a particular cabinet minister who works closely with the chief minister of the state. A character states that the police purposely botched up his brother’s murder case, which again throws light on how the crime syndicate and the police are in sync and working to protect each other.
Thankfully, the screenplay and story do not take the commercial route by going crazy with over-the-top action sequences, where the cops show up as the saviors of society. The antagonist does not have a caricatured look. Sekar wears a normal shirt and pants, but his presence is unmatchable and generates genuine intimidation.
The highlight of the show, despite the intricate arcs of the criminals, is the complicated relationship between Ashwath and his wife, Vaidegi. She is suffering from postpartum depression, but Ashwath purposely tries to stay away from the responsibilities of being a father. Her angst is palpable, and we would like to see more of her in Mathagam Part 2. Sayanthika, the police commissioner, and her husband must be one of the most endearing representations of a modern couple who are each other’s pillars of support. Vaidegi and Sayanthika are the only female characters that are projected as no-nonsense women. They will not tolerate any disrespect coming their way.
The direction and editing of Mathagam are excellent, even though the pacing is the biggest complaint. The editing allowed the screenplay to be straightforward. Prasad Murugesan’s excellent direction connected all the stories without creating any confusion. The multiple-narrative style of storytelling could have derailed the entire show, but Prasad Murugesan’s direction was the glue that held the structure of the show together. The cinematography by A.M. Edwin Sakay is rustic and raw. The dialogue was tacky. Certain characters spoke only in English, which made the scenes awkward. Some lines seem like inspirational quotes taken straight from the internet. The dubbing in certain areas was an issue as well.
The performance of the lead actor could have been better. It lacked the depth that the screenplay had. Atharvaa, as Ashwath, had one expression throughout the film, which got irritating after a point. Gautham Vasudev Menon, who seems to have ventured into full-time acting, needs to up his acting skills. Being a director himself, he should be aware of how to emote. His chemistry with Dilnaz Irani is interesting to watch. Nikhila Vimal stands out as the frustrated and tired wife who gets to shine at the end. K. Manikandan, as Padalam Sekar, stands out for all the right reasons. Mathagam almost makes him look like Robin Hood. Sharath Ravi, as Guna, also has an interesting arc to play.
Mathagam, after a slow-paced narrative, ends on an excellent cliffhanger. It does make the audience eager to witness the showdown between Padalam Sekar and Ashwath.