To be compared to all the gangster saga epics that came before it, Malik was always destined to be. From the mother of all, The Godfather to Once Upon a time in America to the most recent Scorcese homage to himself, The Irishman. Then we have the Indian tributes to The Godfather from Nayagan to Sarkar. Mahesh Narayan has went on record that he had confided in none other than Kamal Hassan that he was mulling over his own version of The Godfather.Interestingly Kamal Hassan has to be the only actor to appear in two adaptations of the Coppola classic, Nayagan and Thevar Magan. Mahesh hasn’t shied away from talking about the influence of Nayagan either. It’s evident that more than anyone Mahesh Narayan himself would have been aware of the burdens his film was ultimately destined to carry. It doesn’t help a filmmaker’s cause these days that most people respond to the responses to a film rather than the film itself. As if these crocodiles in the proverbial moat weren’t good enough to lose his sleep over, the writer-director chose to set the story against the backdrop of an incident in the history of the state that even the government doesn’t want to remember. This could only be one of these two things, sheer courage or plain stupidity. The jury is still out it seems, if Mahesh Narayanan ended up making a Quixote or a Lancelot of himself.
Like Take Off, Malik too is a sound film technically. Mahesh Narayanan belongs to the Joshy-I.V Sasi school of filmmaking where scale and ensemble cast are the norm, within the constraints of Malayalam Cinema of course. The film is closer in structure to Godfather Part II where there are two parallel narratives though it pays more tributes than one to Godfather I and also borrows heavily from Nayagan when it comes to some aspects of the plot. For instance, I was wondering why the assassination of Chandran was so elaborately staged when I was watching it, it was only later that I realised that it was a direct reference to the scene from Part II where Vito Corleone chases and Don Fanucci over rooftops. The feast in the opening scene and the retaliation during the funeral are allusions to scenes from Godfather I. Presuming that the title of the film is a reference to the stature of the main protagonist in his immediate soical surroundings, the writer fails to capture the growth of that very character from a small time smuggler to the revered figure I felt. Maybe instead of focusing on the mechanisations of Suleiman’s trade the film should have spent time on his growing influence in the community and present the audience with a more credible reason for his falling out with the State too. From his initial exchanges with his wife we get to know that the ultimate sacrifice he made, that of his son’s life played a role crucial in cementing his position as a leader of the people. In Godfather I while on exile in a town in Sicily, when Michael Corleone asks about the men of the town, he’s told that all of them died in vendettas. The Godfather saga is as basically about that culture of vengeance within an ethnic group who are almost tribalistic when it comes to their rituals. It’s not a story for the modern ages and despite it’s cinematic aesthetics, remains a regressive tale. Coppola maybe have been aware of this and this could be the reason why chose to close Godfather I with the shot of Micheal Corleone shutting the doors of his office to his wife. Mahesh Narayanan on the other hand has brought in the perspectives of a mother, a wife and that of a daughter in an attempt to sensitise the film for a contemporary audience. Personally, I felt that the film should have explored Roselyn’s perspective as a mother a bit more. But then, to pack all of these themes into a film under three hours is quite an asking task too. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the film was being woven around a real life incident which involved tensions of the communal kind. Mahesh Narayanan indeed turned Lancelot when he presented Suleiman Ali as an unapologetic believer of a leader, a rarity in these times.
Fahad’s portrayal of the older Suleiman Ali was a bit too verbose for my liking but that’s again on the writer I guess. They should have probably gone with a rather quieter, contemplative Suleiman Ali like Amitabh’s Subhash Nagre in Sarkar. Fahad has had four major OTT releases since the pandemic wreaked havoc and he has played four distinct characters in each of these films. So the attention he grabs on a platform with a global reach at a time when even critics are running out of films is rather expected and well deserved too, I’d say. Nimisha pitches in with an earnest performance and I wished that her character had more to do with the narrative that it meets the eye, once I was done watching the film. Vinay Fort as the friend turned foe was functional but there was no real chemistry between him and Fahad but here again the writer is to be blamed. Jalaja returned to the screen after almost two decades and was totally at ease and what I took note of was her voice. She has to be one of the very few actors from that era who didn’t speak on screen in Anandavally’s voice. Interestingly, the younger version of her character was played by her daugher and Mahesh Narayan also got Salim Kumar’s son to play the younger Moosakka. Joju has been spending a lot of time inside police stations and government offices these days and here again his character was under written I felt.. If Indrans had walked off the sets into any police station in Kerala, he would have fit in right away and no one would have raised a brow. Chandunath who played the younger police officer is an actor to look forward to. So is Sanal who played Freddy. Dileesh Pothan again delivers precisely what the role demands of him. Parvathy Krishna was impressive and the scene where she makes a hurried entrance at her workplace reminded me that acting is not just about emoting but also about blending into the surroundings effortlessly. She was a natural there. Malik is not a perfect film or even a great film but it has it’s moments. It’s not an easy film to write or make. There are some real neat instances of filmmaking unlike anything that we have seen before in Malayalam Cinema. The execution of the assassin before the prison and the other long take where Suleiman goes in search of his son were remarkable . Malik may have turned into an indulgence in the excercise of filmmaking at some point, to the makers. Despite Mahesh Narayan’s justifications there are views from serious students of Cinema that the opening long shot was a bit too forced. Malik is indeed an engaging watch at the end of the day and a sea apart from the usual fare in Malayalam Cinema. Of course you could debate the politics of the film till kingdom come. History I think, would be kinder to Malik.