The main issue I had with Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Double Barrel was how he pushed the eccentricity of scenes for the sake of humor beyond a point. Even though Malaikottai Vaaliban, his first association with Mohanlal, is not really in a similar space, there are areas in the film where Lijo uses creative liberty to make things a bit whacky or visibly odd. I do understand the need for a proper backstory before introducing a character in a conflicted space. But the problem with Malaikottai Vaaliban is that it sort of gets lost in each scene, making the progression look bumpy on screen.
Malaikottai Vaaliban, a wandering wrestler who challenges the prominent fighters in the places he visits, is our central character. He lives with his master and master’s son. The lone soul has not even tried to find a companion as he considers himself unworthy of all that. What we see in the movie Malaikottai Vaaliban is one fight challenge Vaaliban takes up to free some people enslaved by foreigners and the repercussions of that.
Post Double Barrel, every film that Lijo Jose Pellissery had made had this raw tone to their credit, even when subjects like Churuli and Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, etc., had a fantasy layer. In all these movies, there is something in the narrative that keeps the audience engaged, and none of the subplots or the backstories in those movies felt easily replaceable. When it comes to Malaikottai Vaaliban, I felt that there was too much improvisation to make the story happen in a slightly absurd-ish setting. You get to see the two leading ladies dancing on top of a lot of nails while Vaaliban is tied to a pillar; pretty much a tribute to Sholay. In another scene, Vaaliban says, “Konjam ange paaru”. The issue is that, while all these are happening, you, as an audience, are not observing the events with curiosity. And it is more like a set piece that was included just for the sake of grandeur.
The real core of the story, which has to do with Vaaliban’s emotional trauma of being accused of something he hasn’t done is a version of Othello. PS Rafeeq and Lijo have created characters that sort of enhance the Shakespearian attire of the movie. And there is a festival sequence in the film where I really loved the mask-filled staging of the pivotal event. But how the movie enters that space isn’t that organic. And frankly, most of the events that happen before all this to establish the character felt either inconsequential or unnecessarily stretched.
When it comes to performances, I would say Malaikottai Vaaliban has definitely utilized Mohanlal as an actor. While the film’s first half largely focuses on his charm and ease in being an experienced wrestler, the second half, which has the character in the middle of an emotional turmoil, gives you glimpses of the other side of the performance. The ease he shows in fight sequences helps the movie a lot. Hareesh Peradi, as the dual-shaded master of Vaaliban, is in good form. Sonalee Kulkarni as Rangarani was fine in a role that mostly wanted her to be an old-school romantic. Manoj Moses plays the crucial role of Vaaliban’s brother, and Katha Nandi is there as his love interest. Manikandan R Achari delivers those highly dramatic lines convincingly. I really liked the casting of Danish Sait as Chamathakan.
The staging of the movie against the backdrop of a deserted land kind of helps the movie have those fantasy elements in the story. I actually liked the minimalistic stunt choreography of Malaikottai Vaaliban, which was doing the build-up thing better than how Prashant Neel did for Salaar. But instead of moving the story forward compellingly, PS Rafeeq’s screenplay approaches subplots in a very episodic way, and the tone shift disrupts the rhythm. The contrast of the genres of the adjacent scenes was affecting the movie.
Madhu Neelakandan’s frames, which mostly have brown and red in them, have a calmer approach, and Lijo Jose Pellissery goes back to his slow-motion rich scene creation methodology, probably to emphasize the unrealness of the whole thing. If you look at the sound design of one of the biggest set pieces in the movie, it works like a tribute to the sound design history. I don’t have an issue with the movie’s pacing, but how some of the sequences were sustained and how some of the action moves were chopped, taking away the charm of Vaaliban’s moves was a huge deal breaker for me. As always, the oddness of the scores and songs adds a layer of peculiarity to this movie.
After the unsuccessful multi-starer Double Barrell, Lijo Jose Pellissery famously posted on Facebook that he had no plans to change or impress. Well, the signature of such a filmmaker who wants to do something different from the ordinary is definitely there in Malaikottai Vaaliban. But sadly, this time, the overtly dialogue-driven concept couldn’t really hold the plot together. What you get is an ambitious pitch for something visually astonishing. Some may say that it is not a “mass” movie, but a “class” movie. But I would say that it would have been a “class” movie if it wasn’t really trying hard to be a mass movie.
Some may say that it is not a "mass" movie, but a "class" movie. But I would say that it would have been a "class" movie if it wasn't really trying hard to be a mass movie.
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended