Malik Is A Sprawling Gangster Epic Masquerading As A Political Drama
Malik (Amazon Prime, Malayalam)
Starring: Fahadh Faasil, Vinay Forrt and Nimisha Sajayan
Directed by Mahesh Narayanan
Rating: *** ½
Malik Review: Be warned. I think Fahadh Faasil is among India’s most talented actors. But I am not a fan of gangsters being glorified as Robin Hoods. It is an old trick in cinema. To show criminals with their hands soaked in blood, building a school here, and a hospital there for the poor, feeding the poor at religious places and meting out justice to tortured peasants…Marlon Brando did it 40 years ago.
Now its is Fahadh Faasil’s turn. Malik is a big film and I completely understand Fahadh’s disappointment at the skipped theatre release. The film is stylishly mounted. The opening festivities at Sulaiman(Faasil)’s residence are captured in a lengthy 12-minute shot which reminded me of the wedding in The Godfather, as I guess it is meant to.
From this ostentatiously impressive beginning Malik never stops being that film which wants us to look at it without blinking. The frames are littered with legacies of unspoken violence and recrimination. Cinematographer Sanu Varghese(he also shot the same director’s first film Take Off) makes a virtue of a depressing dinginess that accompanies the narrative everywhere it goes.
The film is constantly on the move. When we first meet Sulaiman and his no-nonsense wife Roselyn(played by Nimisha Sajayan who looks like she decided to finally assert herself after serving endless meals to her husband in The Great Indian Kitchen) Sulaiman wants to wash away his sins by going on a pilgrimage.In a black-and-white CCTV-styled sequence he is stopped by the cops at the airport and arrested under TADA.
Stop right here. Are we supposed to respect a “hero” who is a suspected terrorist? I am afraid Sulaiman lost me there. From this point onwards the lengthy film(it clocks 2 hours and 40 minutes of our viewing time) flashed forward and buckled backwards with tales of Sulaiman’s bravery that are meant to be folklore . Alas, this is more corny than Corleone.
Director Narayanan loathes the linear. He moves through the semi-fictional bio-pic(apparently this dupe-gooder Sulaiman existed ) like a drunken monk, negotiating the protagonist’s criminal beginnings and his growth into a full-blown lawbreaker that comes naturally to artistes who believes only the lawless can bring justice to the oppressed. There is also a very dangerous communal subtext here whereby the historically sanctioned oppression of a community is seen as a pretext for outlawry.
I am not sure Fawadh Faasil agrees with the director’s moral landscape. Faasil moves through the landmine of moral ambivalence with stealthy cautious steps.At the end I knew nothing about Sulaiman that I wanted to know. What impels such self-styled Robin Hoods into messianic postures? Faasil gives an exasperatingly clammed performance. We don’t know what Sulaiman is thinking. We only hear his close associates talk about him.
For me the redeeming crux of the plot is the dramatic conflict in prison where Sulaiman’s nephew Freddy(Sanal Aman) is sent to kill Sulaiman. The tension between the two characters is captured with an escalating impunity that indicates a relationship in progress. There is crackling Shakespearean tension here.
This relationship is in direct contrast to the ethos of dead end values and relationships that prevail in this lengthy uneven but strangely stirring saga of crime and retribution. At the most Malik is a fabulous failure. At worst , it is a self indulgent paean to criminalized behaviour.