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Malik Movie Review: An ambitious retelling of the gangster epic with ever relevant political underpinnings

Title: Malik 

Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Nimisha Sajayan, Dileesh Pothan and Joju Goerge.

Director: Mahesh Narayanan

Rating: 3.5/5

After almost a year of being stalled by the pandemic, Fahadh Faasil’s much-awaited tent pole project Malik has finally hit the streaming services today through its worldwide release on Amazon Prime. The film serves as the third entry in the actor and director duo’s association after the acclaimed political drama Take Off and the cheeky computer screen-based thriller CU Soon that single-handedly revived the Malayalam cinema industry post lockdown era. Malik, unlike Mahesh Narayanan’s earlier offerings, looks, feels and plays out like an epic social drama designed around the newfound stardom of its leading man, the enigmatic charmer Fahadh Faasil.

Malik begins with an almost eleven-minute single-shot sequence revolving around a grand wedding ceremony set inside a mansion and the brilliantly realized passage is so reminiscent of the opening wedding scenes of Francis Ford Coppola’s revered “The Godfather“ in its conception, though Mahesh Narayanan makes it unique with his staging choices. The film by design pays its dues to classics of the gangster genre like Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan and the big-budget political crime dramas churned out by IV Sashi – T Damodaran duo in the ’80s and 90’s classic era of Malayalam cinema. However, Mahesh is too good a craftsman to mimic the structure or visual grammar of these classics so the similarity pretty much ends there. The film uses a familiar crime setting to tell the story of a man who is viewed as a saviour by many and a fanatical tyrant by a section.

This film is structured as what they traditionally call a Cradle – to – Casket story of a man destined to traverse the world of crime; a decision borne more out of his surroundings than by choice. The film opens with Sulaiman Ali Ahammad (Fahadh Faasil), a visibly tired old man in his early sixties embarking on a tour to the ultimate pilgrimage to Mecca after leaving his dreaded past behind him for good. Sulaiman is the patriarch of the whole coastal village and that is evident from the grant farewell he gets from his people who look up to him and idolize his life’s efforts. Ali is reluctant to embark on this journey as he fears a sinister deal going on that can possibly affect his village and its people propagated by the local politician Aboobacker (Dileesh Pothan) in the guise of development. However, he is convinced by his wife Roselyn (Nimisha Sajayan) to complete his holy tour for their dead son’s sake who passed away at a young age.

The local administration and police who are tired of Ali’s unflinching influence over the people and growing insurgency conveniently sets him up with non-bailable terrorist charges that have become a common sight in today’s India against the voices of dissent. The script goes back in time using two equally consistent yet contradictory narrators that reimagines Ali’s life to a prospective killer who has been assigned by the police force to eliminate the captive Sulaiman within his jail cell. The one side of the story narrated by Ali’s mother Lyla (Jalaja) which is a mother’s account of a failed son who stood up for the people and did the right thing when it mattered for the voiceless minority. The second version of Ali’s life is offered by David, Sulaiman's friend from the past who holds him responsible for all the sins that have affected their village and its people lives over the course of forty-odd years.

The whole film is based on this brilliant contradiction and in a way this narrative device offers rare insights into how the same person is perceived as different entities for various reasons unknown to themselves. Malik is a carefully constructed social drama that is direct and loud in its commentary on the highly polarising religious ideals of herds misled by the ruling governments and incompetent bureaucracy. Mahesh Narayanan has mounted the film on a large-scale spanning across a sixty-year timeline from the 1960s to the present with carefully observed set design with attention to the period details. The screenplay constantly cuts back and forth between the events and this cross-cutting makes sense and contributes to the film’s overall tone and world-building.

Malik clocks at two hours forty-two minutes and never loses its stream till the very end with some great performances by the primary players. Sulaiman Ali is a living contradiction in the movie and Fahad underplays the part to perfection as often the case with him in each new outing. Fahad looks like a frail old man who is on the brink of an emotional breakdown yet capable of calling the shots on any given day. A challenging ask from any young actor! Nimisha Sajayan takes some time to settle down into her role with the peculiar accent but gradually owns the part to be a part sensitive and part gutsy queen-like figure in Ali’s kingdom. The casting of a few of the supporting parts was inventive and added genuine surprises at certain plot reveals towards the second half. Malik couldn’t have come at a better time with the Lakshawadeep issue taking centre stage in our social media circles and prompting discussions on the political use of religion as a tool to effectively cut people off from one another. This was further validated when the director, in one of his recent interviews hinted at the political implications and resonance of the subject matter in these testing times.

Malik is the kind of movie that can offer deeper layers with each repeated viewing to viewers who are willing to get lost in Mahesh Narayanan’s ambitious world-building, greyish character touches and well-earned closures to each individual episode from the nonlinear narrative. The songs and original score by Sushin Shyam further pushes the scope of the sprawling epic nature of the film and sometimes defines the tone of the events unravelling on screen.  The visual design of the coastal town and the life of the people form a full circle in Sanu Varghese’s non-showy camera work that works like a presence rather than imposing any gimmicks associated with commercial potboilers of this magnitude. Malik is a picture made for the screens and not ideally designed for home viewing through the streaming services, yet the story engages and often rewards its viewers all the more in the new personalised mode of movie watching as it works on an emotional level. The film will open new doors for creators to experiment with bolder themes and the glaring, saga like treatment only lends more potential for expansive storytelling even through streaming services and negate the void left over by closed out theatres in its own way.

Movie Review by: Arjun Menon

Also Read: EXCLUSIVE: Fahadh Faasil gets candid about his Telugu debut with Allu Arjun for Pushpa: I'm excited about it 

Check out our exclusive interview with Fahadh and director Mahesh below: