Neelakanta's forte has been unusual storylines. He rose like a meteor in popularity with his very first film but has since failed to live up to that high standard of his own. For a change, we have the director dealing in an usual story wrapped in an eerie element. The faculty of Extra Sensory Perception (no, this time he has done away with having a disorder for his protagonist) is leveraged to give a touch of excitement to an otherwise ordinary crime thriller kinda story. By the time the movie is over, it hardly matters whether ESP was incidental or integral to the story. When the heroine talks about it to her father, played by Naga Babu, he responds with usual calmness, suggesting that the element has not much enriching role to play in the script.
'Maaya' begins with a Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev quote and ends up being a mundane entity like that of the most jaded disciple of the Sadhguru. When Telugu films make a mention of high-sounding names, anecdotes or historical events, please don't be misled into thinking that you are in for something 'hatke'. It's very likely that the director/writer noticed the thing while logged on to FB or Twitter and incorporated that element to lend his film a pseudo-intellectual aura.
There is the heroine who has this faculty of ESP. Ninety-nine out of 100 films would have had such a girl grown suspicious about her boy friend's antecedents/intentions through the help of wordly co-incidences. Neelakanta being Neelakanta, he has Meghna (Avantika Mishra) born with a rare faculty, which is dissected by Jhansi - unfortunately for us. And it is this faculty which gives Meghna a hint of what is going to happen, without giving her an iota of information about the happenings that precede immediately before it.
Although the ESP element is added to embellish the storyline with a distinct element, it ends up being relegated to the background - for the simple reason that the element has no need to be elevated in the second half. What begins like a mediocre, half-hearted psychological thriller degenerates into a half-baked crime film. The film picks up pace in the last 20 minutes.
In the absence of a storyline that sustains the ESP element as a relevant one unfleshed till the climax, 'Maaya' simply falls flat for Neelakanta's fans, more than for others. More than telling a human story, the film makes an effort to surprise us by revealing unknown facets of characters around Meghna.
Given the title and the publicity, many would have expected so much from the character played by Avantika Mishra, but the character stops exciting us after a point. The actress looks too placid for a role of this kind. Just because she is playing a journo, does that mean that the dubbing artiste (whose voice is a throwback to the kind seen in dubbed movies in the 1990s) has to sound more than her age? Two activist-like personalities taking up same issues, opposing all power projects from Kashmir to Kanyakumari is not a surprise, but for the hero their likeness is like the similarities that Karl Marx and Engels had in them!
Harshvardhan Rane gets to play a full-fledged role while Sushma Raj comes into her in the last scene. Before that, Sushma Raj simply perplexes us with her over-excited act in the beginning.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the songs are downright oldish, what with both the music and the visualization simply B-grade. Songs are simply not Neelakanta's forte.
Verdict: A pseudo-experiment.