Malik, meaning the chief or the owner, kick-starts with much tension because the life of the protagonist is at stake. The Mahesh Narayanan film that got its digital release on Amazon Prime Video after a long theatrical wait is just another miss for the big screens.
The opening single-shot sequence lasting for nearly 20 minutes typically summarises what is to follow in the layered emotionally driven drama.
Malik is the life story of Sulaiman right from his childhood and revolves around a coastal hamlet named Ramadapally. The trailer makes it amply clear the film traces his growth, ageing and even frailty. On the surface, it may feel as an ordinary fare, but the way it is narrated and executed makes all the difference. As the story develops, we realise that we are given the narration of an event from multiple points of view, thus adding depth and mystery to the same while shedding new light on it.
In a whimsical opener that turns out to be a flash-forward, we see Sulaiman's preparation to go for the Hajj, leaving behind all his unjust ways. However, things turn upside down as he gets arrested. At the same time, a juvenile criminal is assigned to eliminate Sulaiman, while behind bars.
The gist of the tale
Innocence, sweat, land, camaraderie, love, blood, grime, gang, crime -- Malik showcases all such varied emotions while deftly weaving a relevant tale across decades. The essence of this gritty tale is one of evolution and survival, of people and of their lands. While some accept the change in the guise of development, some take on rebellious means to own land. Ultimately, the quest for the real owner with regard to power, politics and community looms over.
With Take Off and CU Soon, Mahesh Narayanan has established a reputation as an avant-garde filmmaker so it should come as no surprise that he has integrated several acute observations on the current socio-political affairs. Another remarkable aspect of Malik is that two religious communities are best portrayed despite the changing times and it is the most heartwarming sight in the scruffy coastal village of Ramadapally. In one of the amazing sequence between Sulaiman and David, we get to hear how Jesus Christ has embraced the people of Ramadapally which is quite a breathtaking scene in itself.
There are even moments that give a human touch to the proceedings; take the case of the sub-collector Anwar Ali (Joju George) who arrives in the town to check on the 'Bombay-style gangster groups'. While we expect an encounter, we get to hear Sulaiman and Anwar Ali talk about a washing machine, the waste dumped in the locality and the need for a school. In another instance when Anwar Ali comes to question Sulaiman in a murder case, Sulaiman challenges him back saying, "If you can take me away from amidst the people of Ramadapally, try and take me sir". There are many moments like these with a pumping feat of narrative that make watching this film worthwhile.
Too long, but don't mind
At close to three hours this one is a tad too long and the story becomes a bit predictable at certain points as well. But it is the brilliant performances that make this film, absolutely gripping. The cast becomes an effective tool as Mahesh Narayanan has used all his actors to full effect irrespective of their importance in the film.
One could see the change in body language and attitude at different phases of Sulaiman and Fahadh should share the credit with the make-up department. Nimisha Sajayan and Vinay Forrt as Rosilyn and David were best finds too. Both characters have extreme rudeness, slightly orthodox mindsets and a different shade of innocence.
Like Rajeev Ravi's Kammatipaadam, Lijo Jose Pellissery's Angamaly Diaries and even Diman Denni's Valiyaperunnal, grey characters come as no surprise in this Mahesh Narayanan film. The characters are shown as growing with some hard-hitting incidents. The film remains largely inoffensive although it is filled with offensive characters constantly indulging in objectionable behaviour. Be it Sulaiman's mother played by veteran actress Jalaja or CI Kristhudasan played by Indrans – each character has one's own reasons for one's actions. Comparision with Kamal Haasan-starrer Nayakan is also bound to happen.
Impressive efforts by crew
Composer Sushin Shyam peps up the action sequences set by Hollywood stunt choreographer Lee Whittaker. The edits and screenplay have been so smart that even the smaller characters stay in your mind. The coastal life was also visualized impressively and the production design seems to have set a new benchmark in that manner. With stunning visuals by Sanu John Varghuse, the film is strikingly real and genuinely engaging. He is to Mahesh Narayanan what Rajeev Ravi was to Anurag Kashyap in Gangs Of Wasseypur.
Even as Sulaiman trusts his intuition, we expect no heroic twists or a happy ending. Because this guy, has always run behind the lives of others to own the land of Ramadapally without letting anyone else rule over the place and thereby created more enemies than friends. The climax is another aspect which comes in as an expected revenge routine, like a dramatic dome to a realistic narrative structure.
Malik is an ambitious vision that is so energetic and inventive that one forgets the fact that such similar stories and premises have been told before.
For those of you who liked their previous films, this one also has the cinematic quality you expect in a Mahesh Narayanan-Fahadh Faasil movie.
(The movie is available on Amazon Prime Video)