Malik movie review: Fahadh Faasil is fabulous in Amazon's overambitious but outstanding crime saga
Malik movie review: Fahadh Faasil's sprawling epic, acquired by Amazon Prime, bites off more than it can chew, but leaves you to mull over some important ideas.
Malik opens with a flashy oner that perfectly captures the adventurous spirit of contemporary Malayalam cinema. But technically speaking, it opens with a paranoid disclaimer that captures the mood of the nation. Directed by Mahesh Narayanan and starring his muse, Fahadh Faasil, Malik walks a thin line, thematically. Props to Amazon Prime Video for picking it up.
At over two-and-a-half hours long, Malik is a suitably epic crime saga; its reach often exceeds its grasp. It spans the lifetime of one man, Sulaiman Ali, the revolutionary leader of a coastal village in Kerala who in the opening moments of the film is arrested by the authorities at the airport. Fearing his increasing influence in the region's politics, local leaders scheme to have him assassinated in captivity. But Ali Ikka, as he is affectionately known by his followers, is convinced that no one in the community can harm him.
Watch the Malik trailer here:
What unfolds is an ambitious, but often rough-around-the-edges crime drama that shamelessly borrows from classics such as The Godfather and Gangs of Wasseypur. Mahesh Narayanan’s script, however, doesn’t have the rugged poetry that we associate with Anurag Kashyap’s films. This is a complex story, simply told, despite its episodic structure and sprawling cast of characters.
The ever-reliable Joju George, for instance, appears only after the hour-mark. He plays the Ramadhir Singh of this tale, essentially — an IAS officer named Anwar Ali who has his pudgy fingers in every pie within touching distance, and others waiting to be baked. Him and Ali Ikka go back a long way; in fact, the Malik — another of his monikers — seems so isolated as a human being that most of his relationships can be traced back to his youth. And Anwar knows that to enter his inner circle, he cannot rely on outside help.
After a first act that effectively sets up the premise, Malik launches into an extended flashback that lasts about an hour. We watch as a young Ali and his poor family move into a coastal village at the edge of a garbage dump — it is where Ali’s father will be eventually be buried, discarded like every other member of their community by the iron fist of majoritarianism.
The landscape is so large that Narayanan often struggles to maintain a grip on the material. But ambition such as this — both narrative and thematic — is what makes the New-Gen movement in Malayalam cinema so exciting. For instance, the full impact of an insult that a character lobs at Ali is felt an hour or so later, when we’ve slipped into the past and witnessed their relationship develop. Like Mystic River, Malik is essentially the story of three friends who wash up on different shores after knocking about together as common goons in their youth. While Ali and Aboobacker (Dileesh Pothan) are Muslims, their buddy David (Vinay Forrt) is a Christian. To make matters more complicated, Ali falls in love with David's sister Rosaline (played by Nimisha Sajayan, who has done more good work in 2021 than most actors can manage in entire careers).
Narayanan is trying to make a rather grand statement about communal politics here, albeit in a straightforward manner. Crucially, he frames his ideas through a personal lens — in many ways, Malik is a character study about one man’s messiah-like rise to the top, and the almost Biblical betrayal that brings him down.
Working for the third time with Narayanan, who is better known as an editor, Fahadh Faasil is pure fire in the central role, which sounds like the understatement of the year, but there you have it. The actor — an indisputable national treasure — finds an emotional through-line that connects the more revolutionary-minded Ali of the 80s to the more sombre, Vito Corleone-style figure of the ‘present day’ portions, a man plagued with a deep melancholy. Like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Faasil's commanding onscreen aura penetrates through his wiry frame.
Aided by a lush score by Sushin Shyam — one that shifts tones and genres in tandem with the film — Malik is a consistently surprising experience, despite its derivative origins. It’s a Chronicle of a Death Foretold, set in a contemporary India that might as well be medieval. But even I didn’t expect it to turn into True Detective season two in its final act, when it suddenly becomes obsessed with the intricacies of real-estate scams and the highway mafia.
Malik isn’t so much a dissection of the strongman concept than a mere representation of it. Had it not been for those pesky subtitles, the film could quite possibly have caused a bit of a stir. But fortunately for all of us, I don’t think the people who tend to cause this kind of trouble are particularly fond of reading. It’s a political drama that masquerades as a gangster picture. Identifying the difference between the two, as always, is up to you.
Director - Mahesh Narayanan
Cast - Fahadh Faasil, Dileesh Pothan, Joju George, Nimisha Sajayan, Vinay Forrt
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar