‘Malik’ review: Mahesh, Fahadh and Nimisha deliver complex political drama
The plot examines the relationship between religion, politics, gender, and individual ambitions. It’s a complicated mix, but director Mahesh Narayanan expertly directs the script.
The image that stuck with me after Malik ended with a young Suleiman selling perfume while exchanging glances with Roselyn trying to attract customers to her fish stand. It is a tender and exquisite moment shared between two young people who oppose but have the feeling of belonging. Suleiman from Fahadh is a dropout who is now smuggling goods; his father is dead and his mother can’t stand it; he is a muslim. Roselyn de Nimisha is the only person to go to university from their coastal village; his family is united and his brother David (Vinay Forrt) is Suleiman’s best friend; she is a Christian. But they come together despite the differences, setting the stage for a saga that spans decades.
Mahesh Narayanan Malik is a familiar story. The rise of a young boy in the world of crime to finally become the godfather of the community he protects, and the day his past catches up with him. The plot line is similar to that of Mani Ratnam Nayakan. Here too, the hero protests against the displacement of his people and fights for their land rights. He does justice to himself when it suits him, but there is a price to pay for it, and an enemy he never imagined.
But that doesn’t mean the two are the same movies. Not at all. Mahesh Malik appears to be loosely based on the Beemapally riots of 2009, when police indiscriminately opened fire on residents and then claimed it was done to control community violence. However, the police version was countered by human rights organizations who said there had been no community violence in Beemapally and the excuse had been planted. The film begins with the disclaimer that this is a fictional story, but there are too many common factors that tie it to Beemapally. Nayakan, on the other hand, was inspired by the life of Varadarajan Mudaliar, a Tamil don from Dharavi in ââMumbai.
Gangster stories have a certain universality, given that most of the neglected heroes onscreen rise out of poverty and their actions are never black and white; it is this space that Malik occupies too much, drawing comparisons to other iconic Indian films that have explored the same themes.
Set in Ramadapally (the fictional coastal village looks very believable) in Thiruvananthapuram, the film opens with an elderly Suleiman preparing to go for Hajj. In this obviously Muslim household, his wife Roselyn walks without a veil on her head. A lot happens as Suleiman prepares to leave, and Mahesh fills the house with people coming and going, creating a strong sense of community. The camera takes us through the crowd, focusing on that person for a second, before landing on Suleiman’s calm, silent face. Between welcoming and meeting, Suleiman also does business. As an elderly man Fahadh walks slightly hunched over, his smile is not as open as what we will see in the flashback. In the midst of the festivities, there is tension. Suleiman and Aboobacker (Dileesh Pothan), the friend of the former and now politician, are about to fall out and it has taken a long time.
Mahesh drops the plot threads of the first sequence which he picks up later, forcing viewers to work with him to unravel the layered story. Suleiman is willing to give it all up and be content with a life of peace, but that’s easier said than done. Crime casts a long shadow, and we travel back in time to join the dots and make the connections. Although the film spans decades, from the 60s to the new millennium, the events of the present are told in a matter of days. The choice of storytelling emphasizes the fact that actions have consequences, and that the present is never exempt from the past. The plot examines the relationship between religion, politics, gender, and individual ambitions. It’s a complicated mix, but Mahesh expertly directs the script, without confusing the viewer.
Malik comes at a time when religious polarization is a factor in almost every major election held in the country. Does it matter to ordinary people which gods are most revered when their lives and livelihoods are at stake? It may defy logic, but the sense of identity and community that religion gives cannot be dismissed lightly. And that’s why this has always been a card the powerful have turned to when they want to become puppeteers. Malik tells the story of two communities, one Muslim and the other Christian, living close to each other (in one of the best scenes of the film, Suleiman tells his friend David that it seems that the statue of Jesus on the Christian part of the village, greets the people of Ramadapally with his outstretched arms) and how their lives – so far intertwined due to their common livelihoods – are jostling due to vested political interests.
Watch: Trailer of Malik
Mahesh carefully avoids mentioning which political party was in charge during the police shootings in the film, but for the record, it was the state LDF government during the Beemapally riots. There are other subtle hints of actual political and community incidents as well, but nothing direct. I understand why a lot of things shouldn’t be said in the current political climate, but part of me worried that this would throw off the balance of representation (the bit about how guns get to Ramadapally, for example) and contributes to an Islamophobic narrative (although this is not the director’s intention).
The romance between Suleiman and Roselyn is at the heart of the film (âTheerameâ is adorable, with Fahadh’s melting eyes and Nimisha’s sparkling smile as a backdrop to the beautiful island of Minicoy), and I had mixed feelings. on this subject. While Nimisha plays the fierce Roselyn with a natural charm that makes the character immediately attractive, the role itself is only written in relation to that of Suleiman. He allows her “magnanimously” to remain a Christian after marriage but asks that their children be brought up as Muslims. Her response is simply a relieved hug. It’s not an unrealistic portrayal, but since Suleiman’s liberal attitude towards religion is borderline glorified in the film, I wonder why the fiery Roselyn must have surrendered so quickly. This decision is a big factor in the plot, and given the frequency with which communities take ownership of women’s bodies (the loud and false rhetoric going on around amorous jihad, for example), I wish I had Mahesh further examines Roselyn’s views.
Also read: ‘Malik’ was the hardest movie for me to write: director Mahesh Narayanan at TNM
Despite the wobbly wig he wears in the 80s, Fahadh is endearing as an enthusiastic young man who wants to bring change to his home. His transformation from an uneducated young man to a creepy killer (the start of this scene is brilliantly shot) and later a broken old man is utterly compelling. Nimisha, too, gets by – there are two scenes in the film when she learns of the death of a loved one – in the first, she screams, out of control, out of her mind. In the second, she is heartbroken but resigned. She’s the same actor, but she carries the weight on her shoulders differently.
The supporting cast of Joju George (playing Sub Collector Anwar), Dileesh, Vinay Forrt, Indrans, Sanal Aman, Parvathy Krishna and others also deliver compelling performances, which keeps us invested in the film throughout. its long duration of 2 hours and 40 min. Malik has been delayed a number of times and it is certainly a film that deserves the big screen canvas and a superior sound system that would have made Sushin Shyam’s background music even more effective in Suleiman’s “mass” moments. It wasn’t, but it must be said that the film is well worth the wait. And let us ruminate long after the end credits.
The film is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Disclaimer: This review has not been paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series / movie. TNM Editorial is independent of any commercial relationship that the organization may have with the producers or any other member of its distribution or team.