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Maharaj Review: Junaid Khan's debut has strong story but lacks impact

"Maharaj" is based on Saurabh Shah's book, revolving around the 1862 Maharaj libel case in the Bombay High Court. The story follows Karsandas Mulji (Junaid Khan), a Gujarati journalist and social reformer, who bravely exposes the malpractices of religious leader Jadunath Maharaj (Jaideep Ahlawat). Karsandas raises his voice against societal malpractices, including the exploitation of women by Jadunath under the guise of spiritual service. When Karsandas' fiancée, Kishori (Shalini Pandey), becomes a victim, he takes a stand, leading to a defamation case that he ultimately wins.


Release date 14 June 2024
Critic's Rating 1.5/5
Director Siddharth P. Malhotra  
Cast Junaid Khan, Jaideep Ahlawat, Shalini Pandey, Sharvari Wagh
Duration  141 minutes

"Maharaj" explores themes of power, gender equality, and the fight against blind faith. Despite its pre-independence setting, the story holds relevance today, highlighting the ongoing exploitation by self-styled godmen. The film touches upon the freedom of the press and the struggles faced by reformists like Karsandas. However, these themes are not effectively conveyed due to the film's lackluster execution.

Despite the intriguing premise, "Maharaj" falters in execution. The screenplay lacks depth, and the direction by Siddharth P. Malhotra is underwhelming. The film fails to offer any scene powerful enough to move the audience, making it a tedious watch. The production values are low, and the storytelling lacks impact, leaving viewers dissatisfied. The film attempts to engage in a dialogue with the protectors of religion but falls short due to its weak narrative structure.

Junaid Khan, son of Aamir Khan, makes his debut but fails to leave a significant impact. His performance was lackluster, and he deserved a stronger debut. Jaideep Ahlawat, known for his remarkable acting skills, disappoints for the first time. His portrayal of Jadunath Maharaj lacks the intensity and nuance expected from an actor of his caliber.

Shalini Pandey, with limited screen time, delivers a commendable performance. Her portrayal of Kishori, a victim of Jadunath's exploitation, is both disturbing and poignant. Sharvari Wagh stands out with her vivacious screen presence and emotional depth, particularly in scenes where she confesses her dark past of being forced into 'charan seva' by her parents. However, even the best performances can't salvage a film with a weak screenplay and direction.


Currently streaming on "Netflix", the film's visual aesthetics are mediocre, failing to capture the grandeur and historical significance of the era. The cinematography does little to enhance the storytelling, and the musical score is forgettable. Unlike other historical dramas that use music to elevate the narrative, "Maharaj" misses the mark.

The film has moments that hint at its potential. A notable scene is where Karsandas, after calling off his engagement with Kishori, is advised that telling people they are wrong is not enough; they need a chance to reform. This sentiment resonates, but the film's inconsistent storytelling undermines its impact. The climax, featuring a monologue questioning blind faith, leaves a thought-provoking message, but it is too little, too late.

"Maharaj" is a film that could have been powerful but falls short due to its weak screenplay, direction, and acting. While it attempts to address important issues, it lacks the finesse and intensity needed to make a lasting impression. Junaid Khan's debut deserved a better platform, and Jaideep Ahlawat's talents are underutilized. Overall, "Maharaj" is a disappointing watch.

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