'Malaikottai Vaaliban': Visual extravaganza, not strong storyline, holds this LJP film

In Lijo Jose Pellissery's universe, there are no hard and fast rules. He plays with situations, characters and norms. At times frustrating, nonetheless, they are fascinating. In 'Malaikottai Vaaliban' too, he employs the same trick, creating a world that is sometimes tiresome, yet worth exploring.

In a sense, 'Malaikottai Vaaliban' is an introduction of sorts -- to the world of a warrior Vaaliban and his legendary heists. He is revealed as someone who 'defeated people of the East, West, North and South with his might.'

Though not exactly a period drama (just as the makers said), 'Malaikottai Vaaliban' seems to be set in the past. Like in many period dramas, men enter into duels to prove their valour while women are all seductive, dressed up as princesses or handmaidens.

Mohanlal as Vaaliban impresses when he is involved in combat with his enemies. There is no loud action, but some elegant acrobatics and muscle power that will keep you engaged. Lijo does a fine balancing act here. Though they were opportune moments to channel a 'Pulimurugan' for his fans, he has stopped making these moments 'mass'. In Malaikottai Vaaliban, the filmmaker has stayed away from the violence that was depicted boldly in his award-winning 'Jalikkattu', though there is some bloodshed. He has chosen to keep things subdued.

While Lijo has created a different world with 'Malaikottai Vaaliban,' he does not amplify Mohanlal's superstardom status, just as he did with Mammootty in 'Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam'. The maker's mark is evident in every frame. And Mohanlal just goes with the flow, trying to fit in with the director's vision. In the process, we get glimpses of the Mohanlal we admire, yet we don't get what we fully desire in terms of his performance.

Hareesh Peradi as Ayyanar, who raises up the young Vaaliban, has given a convincing performance. Bengaluru-based comedian Danish Sait gets to essay an unconventional character in the movie, which marks his debut in Malayalam. The actor has also been dubbed in his own voice and emotes well. Debutant Katha Nandi is equally mesmerising as Jamanthi.

The narrative is slow. Instead of rushing with the plotline, Lijo seems to have asked his cameraman Madhu Neelakandan to linger on some shots, giving us some truly artistic moments. Everything about Vaaliban is artistic. The people, the moments and the frames. The vastness yet beauty of the Rajasthan desert is caught brilliantly in Madhu's camera.

The songs and music by Prashanth Pillai perfectly blend in with the mood of the narrative. He pitches in with a slow, romantic number with songs like 'Madabhara Mizhiyoram' and 'Punnara Kattile Poovanathil'. The acoustics in the film are equally grand. Lijo has attempted to make a grand film, which he has done artistically, but the plotline feels weak at moments, which doesn't fit a film of this scale.

There are times when Lijo tries to tell the story through the frames alone, which affects the storytelling. But rest assured, there are some twists that make the film worth the experience and eager for a second part.

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