Director: Mahesh Narayanan
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Nimisha Sajayan, Joju George, Vinay Forrt
A lead actor can make or mar a movie however superb a script may be, and Fahadh Faasil is simply brilliant as a poor Muslim fisherman, Sulaiman Ali in Malik who wages a lifelong battle to preserve peace between his coastal hamlet and a neighbouring one with a Christian majority. Certainly, he is no mahatma, given his proclivity to smuggling that gets him his riches, but also suffering and pain in the bargain.
Although the film is a biographical sketch of a man who even weds a Christian girl, Rosilin (Nimisha Sajayan) and never attempts to convert her, the core plot deals with the corruption and vindictiveness of the police force that provokes the two communities — hitherto in peaceful coexistence — to kill each other. And those who oppose the vile of the men in khaki are bumped off.
Police brutality in Kerala is particularly bad, and one reason why the Mohanlal-starrer, Drishyam, went on to rake in huge profits was the way it showed police highhandedness. But in Malik, the nexus between politicians and policemen is underlined with far greater subtlety that is demonstrative without being dramatic. The story, strung together in a non-linear form, ultimately tells us how the police, with political backing, can ruin the social fabric of a society, even pitting brother against brother.
Director Mahesh Narayanan, who is also the writer (and editor!), weaves into this labyrinth interesting anecdotes, though at 160 minutes, the movie seems far too stretched (and confusing) with an awfully uninspiring opening shot. The story could have been far more tightly knit, and a lot of verbosity could have been edited out to give a sharper focus to the premise.
In a very strong way, Malik reminded me of Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan, where too Kamal Haasan’s character rises from the lowly ranks to become a leader of his community. Yes, there is far greater violence in Ratnam’s work; Narayanan keeps this aspect well under control, with a minimalistic take on police firing and battles between the groups.
Ali himself is a genteel soul, and Faasil throws up a subtle and sedate performance that conveys the steely determination of the man. His love for his people is exemplified with some of the simplest examples, as when the head of his mosque says that people have stopped coming there because the surroundings have been turned into a huge garbage dumping yard, Ali gets to work and ropes in a local politician and gets the “palli”(mosque) up and shining.
Malik begins far too slowly, but picks up pace as it moves between time frames, and the personal as well as the political, even though I would have preferred more on Ali’s relationships with his wife and kids. These have been glossed over, leaving an undeniable void in the way his character has been shaped.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s biographer)