Maharaja (India, 1998)

Maharaja is beloved by Govinda fans, so I had been looking forward to it. Sadly, I didn’t really like it and would describe it as an endearing mess that steals liberally from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.

But it does feature a full on Govinda kiss, so it has that going for it.

Govinda plays Kohinoor, a prince in a fantasy kingdom who is born with magical powers of telekinesis and hypnosis of animals. The estate manager Ranvir (Salim Ghouse) insinuates himself into the royal family before slaughtering them all and taking over the kingdom so he can sell all the natural resources on the grounds and grow opium instead. Kohinoor is saved by his nurse (Aruna Irani) and brought to a remote village in the Himalayas.

Journalist Shaili (Manisha Koirala), who does a Sick Sad World kind of segment on TV, hears about a mysterious man with magical powers, and tries to convince Kohinoor to come with her and appear on the TV program. When he won’t, she pretends to be in love with him so he will follow her to the city, but during the journey she falls for him for real.

However, rebels from his kingdom intercept them and tell Kohinoor about Shaili’s pretend love and warn him away from crossing through his kingdom to the city because Ranvir wants to kill him. He decides to join the rebels and try to overthrow Ranvir.

This movie tries to cram in absolute tons of stuff, but then doesn’t do anything with the stuff. The magical gift is more of a gimmick that Kohinoor loses before the end, he has five to seven sidekicks and a whole village of rebels that are barely in the movie, the villain has four to six sidekicks that are barely in the movie. Thinking back, Govinda isn’t really in the movie that much either. Neither does the movie spend enough time on character development and it doesn’t let the emotions land. I’m honestly not really sure what WAS in the movie. It’s a blur of almost-things.

The songs are alright but there are very few of them. There is no acting, only mugging, by everyone except Raj Babbar and Aruna Irani ( both barely in the movie) and Govinda (sort of acting). In the first half Govinda plays Kohinoor as the kind of person who’s so in tune with God and Nature that he’s totally serene and high on life. These days he could pull that off, but younger Govinda is nothing if not a smouldering volcano of passionate emotions and not serene at all, so he does not succeed here. Despite that, it’s still compelling to watch. In the second half he does an autopilot repeat of his many 80s revenge movies.

That said, I really don’t have any problems with any of the things that are almost in this movie (except Shakti Kapoor, who isn’t in it enough to ruin it). The environmental message is sweet and if they’d taken more time for it would have been great. Sometimes Govinda has his natural beard, sometimes they give him a shoeshine beard, which is one of my top favourite things in a Govinda movie. Then there’s that kiss which takes a strangely long time but is otherwise exactly what you expect it to be.

It could have been great but instead it’s kind of bad. On the scale, it’s Govinda is the only good thing about this movie. I’d recommend this as a children’s movie but it is far too bloody and scary. I guess if you are super into Indian fantasy movies or Govinda it’s worth watching. Otherwise you can make do with the songs and the kiss at the end.

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