With his latest film Malik, Mahesh Narayanan is trying to narrate a wide canvas political drama that lingers onto its central character Sulaiman, played yet again with astonishing conviction by Fahadh Faasil. By the time the opening shot of the movie, a 12-minute single take, ends, you can somehow understand what will happen in the end. The film is primarily about giving us a lot of details about Sulaiman and his journey to becoming this Godfather figure. And it is also showing us how the system sort of created heroes and villains for its political gain.
Sulaiman belonged to the Muslim community of the coastal area, and from a very young age, he and his friends were involved in all sorts of illegal deals and often got booked by the police. But after a point, they started to do something for the betterment of their community as the situation lacked order. But the rise of Sulaiman wasn’t a pleasing sight for many, and they tried to show him his place. How Sulaiman responded to it and how it eventually decides the fate of his life is what Malik shows us.
The one thing essential for any gangster drama or thriller to work is the way filmmakers present the characters and identify each one in the character pool as the movie progresses. A major reason why Malik works is because of this presentation of characters. Mahesh Narayanan unfolds the subplots and events in the film in such a way that you, as a viewer, are looking for a clue to solve the riddle in every new scene. From Sulaiman’s mother to Sulaiman himself, the story of Malik is presented through the voiceovers of multiple characters, and that really helps the narrative in holding a certain level of mystery. The movie is set in this fictional space called Ramadan Palli. As a writer, Mahesh uses several real-life incidents that happened in the coastal parts of Kerala over the past few decades to build an engrossing drama.
In the initial bits of the movie, where the dialogues are extremely minimal, it is a bit tough to get in sync with the old version of Sulaiman. You can somewhere sense the fancy dress. But as soon as Sulaiman starts talking in that ferocious tone, Fahadh Faasil starts to do his magic and post that he is flawless as a performer (the wigs did their best to drag him down, but they failed miserably). The sequence where he challenges the sub-collector to arrest him and the moments in the jail were great examples of transforming into a character. Nimisha Sajayan as Roslin delivers a remarkable performance. Mahesh Narayanan’s design for this character wasn’t an obeying supporting wife. Roslin had the guts to take major decisions instantly, even against those in power, and Nimisha’s performance made that design look believable on screen. Vinay Forrt as David was really good. In that very last scene, his dialogue delivery to his son had that regret of an old man, and I would say the voice modulation in that scene was terrific. Dileesh Pothan as Abu was really good as a performer, but there are sequences in the initial parts of the movie where he felt like a misfit.
The casting, in general, showed quality, and they have gone for some really interesting talents. You have talented artists like Appani Sarath and Sarath Sabha playing the roles of the friends of Sanal Aman’s Freddy. Sanal Aman gets a big break here after Unto the Dusk as Freddy, and he was really impressive. Mahesh Narayanan has gone for Devaki Rajendran for a seemingly small role of David’s wife, and in the end, you get to see her getting a scene where she has something to perform. Joju George, Divya Prabha, Jalaja, Chandunath, Maala Parvathy, and several other names are here who did a very convincing job and a special mention to Indrans for pulling off a surprisingly unsympathetic character with great believability.
When it comes to the making, Mahesh Narayanan somewhere knows how a drama can become uninteresting for an audience when they can somewhere guess the trajectory of the story. So from the very first scene itself, he uses these lengthy single takes occasionally to create those intriguing moments. And like I already said, the screenplay is unraveling in a certain way giving us clues to the obvious question of whether Sulaiman is a good guy or a bad guy. And much like any other gangster hero, Sulaiman is a flawed guy who had to do all the inappreciable things he did because of the circumstances. Even some of his demands aren’t that perfect to call him the ideal guy. But the ultimate agenda of the movie is to show us how a gangster is born out of oppression and also how the system manipulates chaos to maintain power.
The production design of the movie is terrific. Sanu John Varghese manages to depict the scale of the movie in a very believable way. And there are no flashy sequences in the movie that tries to depict the larger than life kind of persona of Sulaiman. In fact, in most of the sequences, I felt they were giving more emphasis on familiarizing that particular landscape to the viewer rather than following a very conventional shooting procedure. The background score by Sushin Shyam matched and enhanced the scale of the movie.
The canvas of Malik is vast. From numerous incidents to more than a dozen characters, the task in front of the filmmakers in terms of holding the interest of the viewer for a 161 minutes long movie is a solid challenge, and I personally feel they have done a fabulous job in presenting the drama in the story without many convolutions. With Mahesh Narayanan’s clarity in narrating the elaborate drama along with some top-notch performances from Fahadh Faasil, Nimisha Sajayan, and Vinay Forrt, Malik is without a doubt a well-made cinema. The only issue I had with the movie was the secularism Mahesh Narayanan was asserting through dialogues to defend a possible Islamophobia criticism post the movie’s release.
With Mahesh Narayanan's clarity in narrating the elaborate drama along with some top-notch performances from Fahadh Faasil, Nimisha Sajayan, & Vinay Forrt, Malik is without a doubt a well-made cinema
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended