Mahesh Narayan Continues His Inventive Streak in ‘Malik’

Film still from movie ‘Malik’.

I remember thinking and writing that the COVID pandemic had unleashed unseen creativity in director Mahesh Narayanan’s film C U Soon.

But his inventiveness seems to continue with a 10-minute long single-shot scene in his latest movie Malik. The scene transports us to the present-day world of Ahammadali Sulaiman (Fahadh Faasil), as the camera focuses, pans, and constantly follows the proceedings in a crowded get-together. We are introduced to the numerous characters of the movie in a wonderfully staged sequence that Narayanan constructs, pulling a leaf out of movies from the West (the incredible 20-min non-stop sequence from “Pieces of a Woman” comes to mind).

The scene itself is a perfect foil to the rest of the movie, which is mostly told in flashbacks. It’s as though Narayanan is telling us, “Welcome to the present”, and then taking us on a photo-album-like staggering journey of Sulaiman’s past, showing us what makes him the most wanted man in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

The opening sequence alone isn’t the most unique aspect of Malik, which charts the rise of Sulaiman from being a simpleton to the messiah of the village of Ramadapally. His journey is not just eventful — one that involves overcoming corrupt enemies, hoodwinking the coast guards, and evading the cops — but is also a brutal one that costs many lives. It isn’t as much a story of a Don, as it is a chronicle of Ramadapally’s greatest son — Sulaiman; he builds a school for the young ones, ensures parity between the two minority communities, and cleanses the venue where his father remains buried.

With such a setting, the comparison with Godfather-styled movies are unavoidable, but Narayanan impresses with a different treatment. There’s very little gore. A bomb tears someone to shreds, but we aren’t shown any of the remains. A young boy is consumed by the waves in the most touching scene in the movie, but we don’t see the actual incident. An explosion that kills a bunch of young kids is only shown from a distance. Even the most gruesome murder committed in point-blank range is shown only with a smattering of blood. Despite the central conceit of revenge between all of its principal characters, Malik remains a largely blood-less saga, and that’s quite an achievement in filmmaking. 

The movie isn’t without its warts and all though. For all the initial suspense that gets built surrounding Sulaiman’s mother’s testimony, and her narration that follows, there is very little of their actual relationship that is shown. I felt let down, especially considering the generous screen time that Narayanan devotes to Sulaiman’s other relationships — one with his mate and brother-in-law David Christudas (Vinay Forrt) and his lover-wife Roselyn (the young, but highly prolific Nimisha Sajayan). With a running time of more than two and a half hours, the movie seems a couple of reels too long. I was also disappointed by the change of heart that a police officer experiences, switching sides after hearing Sulaman’s story through a hidden microphone. It all seemed a little too cute and convenient. 

But those missteps aside, Malik remains a worthwhile watch. With a relentlessly grim ambiance and a sensational twist at the end, Narayanan weaves a powerful drama focusing on Sulaiman’s trials and tribulations, big and small. The man is safe outside in the midst of his enemies, but the biggest threat to his life is in a walled prison. When being a private citizen, he rejects a consignment of smuggled weapons and buries them away. Later, when in custody, he openly displays a gun threatening a former ally. The ironies of life aren’t lost on us.


Anuj Chakrapani loves cinema and believes movies, like other forms of art, is open to interpretation. And when you begin to interpret, you realize that the parts are more than the sum. Adopting a deconstructionist approach, he tries not to rate movies as “good” or “bad”, instead choosing to capture what he carries away from watching them. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a large technology company.


 

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