Since Max Life is not listed, the public disclosures are not that informative to keep track of them. However from what I've seen (and my opinion too) is that Max Life is a small player compared to the biggies. Their parameters (ROE, ROIC, Persistency, premium growth, etc.) are not something to get excited about. Where Max Life excels is that their product mix is somewhat balanced and not skewed towards ULIPs. The mix of par products is high. Maybe they were concentrating into merging with HDFC Life and didn't concentrate on the business.
Just because HDFC Life was interested does not make it investment worthy. Maybe they wanted a higher market share, get into the top three, wanted banca business from Axis Bank (they are also banca partners of LIC now), etc. Don't get me wrong, I like life insurance companies and even Max Life is not a bad company - just that when you can own the best why settle for next best?
If you want some comparison with the best private players, please look into the DRHP of SBI Life.