We wanted it to feel real: Minnal Murali director Basil Joseph

It’s been one of Netflix’s most-watched films in India, since its release in mid-December. Joseph and the film’s star Tovino Thomas discuss what it was like to make the film.
Tovino Thomas as the tailor-turned-superhero Minnal Murali.
Tovino Thomas as the tailor-turned-superhero Minnal Murali.
Published on Jan 07, 2022 06:44 PM IST
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ByHumaira Ansari

Minnal Murali is the unlikely tale of a small-town tailor who is struck by lightning and awakes with superhuman strength. The thing is, another man in the same village was struck by lightning at the same time, and he’s not using his powers for good.

This twisty, thoroughly enjoyable tale gives India that extremely rare thing: a desi superhero. Its sense of being rooted in a cultural context (this is also Malayalam cinema’s first superhero movie) is no accident.

“Americans are used to comics and superheroes. In our culture, save for Shaktiman, we depend on mythical superheroes like Hanuman and Ram. There’s no template for a desi, homegrown superhero. Since we’re in the early stages of creating a superhero, we wanted to make ours grounded and relatable,” says director Basil Joseph, 32.

As a child, the Wayanad-born Joseph remembers watching India’s first 3D movie, My Dear Kuttichathan (Malayalam; 1984), released in Hindi as Chhota Chetan (1998). “As a kid, to watch ice-cream cones and chocolate bars come to life on a big screen was something else,” Joseph says.

That sense of “something else” was what he was going for, and the rootedness was both desirable and necessary, he says, because he knew that most of his audience over a certain age was made up of people who had never watched a Western superhero film.

The film’s lead actor, Tovino Thomas, says the idea of a tailor becoming a superhero was appealing. It allowed the story to build in a way that was more realistic. He couldn’t, for instance, “look super-beefed-up at once”. Thomas, 32, has documented on Instagram his gradual transformation from regular Joe to Malayalam superhero. By the time his character finally makes himself a rather rakish superhero suit (he starts out in a lungi, with a gamcha for a mask), Thomas knew he’d have to be at his trimmest. “I definitely couldn’t have a potbelly,” he says laughing.

In terms of special effects, the realness meant that props and action sequences could be rooted in the rustic rather than faux-flashy. Lightning-quick reflexes are demonstrated when Minnal kicks a steel tiffin box back onto its counter. Elsewhere, a beedi vibrates on a table. “We placed an electromagnet under the table and a magnet inside the beedi. That’s how we got it to vibrate,” says Joseph, laughing. “We’ve done so many practical inventions on the set, laughing like kids at every output as if it were the Golden Goal in a Football World Cup.”

Thomas laughs too, remembering how he struggled to land punches in a mundu and slippers. “I don’t know how Batman, Superman and especially Ironman even move around in their suits,” he says.

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Sunday, June 26, 2022