There have been countless films that are inspired by Francis Ford Copolla’s gangster saga ‘The Godfather’. The epic story of Vito and Micheal Corleone has always been a yardstick of the gangster genre of films, so much so, that every gangster film is compared against it. Each frame of this film is a coaching manual for filmmakers. Close to home, Mani Ratnam’s ‘Nayakan’ (1987) and Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’ (2012) are reminiscent of ‘The Godfather’ ‘s brilliance and its deep impact on the respective film-makers. Mahesh Narayanan’s ‘Malik’ is moulded in the same frames as these films, perhaps more in the formers. However, there the similarities cease to exist. It is just not another tribute to Copolla’s gangster saga. If anything, Mahesh Narayanan’s ‘Malik’ sets a new benchmark of this genre, at least in contemporary times. It’s a riveting account of one man’s life, in the midst of turbulent relationships and volatile politics riddled with communal disharmony. 

The film begins with a single take shot that runs approx. 12 minutes, that of a dinner party, with people having Biryani, in a large gathering. The hustle-bustle and the continuous thronging of people would remind the film-zealots of the wedding scene of ‘The Godfather’. Swooping in and out of people’s faces, the camera finally meets Ahammadali Sulaiman, the patriarch of the family. The dinner party has been thrown in his honour, as he makes his final preparation to leave for Haj by having a last-minute meeting with another politician. In the next few moments, the changing dynamics of the house gives rise to a palpable tension in the air. At the airport, several CCTV footages show Suleiman to be walking among several other Hajis, checking in their bags and collecting their boarding passes while the background narration declares him a fugitive under the dreadful TADA act. He gets stopped at the boarding gate and is escorted out by several police members. Soon it becomes evident that even the police doesn’t want him to live, along with several others, as they deem him to be too dangerous. Who is this man? Why he’s being hunted by the law and the lawless? In about two hours and forty-one minutes, the film unfurls the story of a man who became the godfather, the ‘Malik’ of many.

The director Mahesh Narayanan employs flashbacks as his medium of telling the story albeit, from several accounts, who are/were in close contact with this mercurial man. These tales, often describe Suleiman aka Ali Ikka as a young man who begins as a petty thief, soon becoming a smuggler with eventually transforming into a powerful man who can topple governments with a single call to war. With these accounts of people, who may or may not have been seeing eye to eye with Ali Ikka, there is no way for the audience of knowing the absolute truth. With the different versions of ‘his truth’ and ‘their truth’, the audience gets to see two different personas of this man – loyal and treacherous, friend and foe, individual and communal. The story begins in the eighties and the audience sees a society where two different communities stay together in peace, with fishing being their primary source of income. With the advent of time, distrust begins to seep into the inner coteries of these two communities which eventually fans into a massive hatred, of course, fuelled by the scheming, conniving politicians. The film majorly highlights the moments where the ruling class wants to sabotage communal harmony of the common folks, for petty self gains. 

The supreme Fahadh Faasil plays Ali Ikka with a certain elan. His transformation from a young man with dreams in his eyes to a messiah of the poor is nothing short of miraculous. In his rise, remains hidden his pain and his sorrows. And Fahadh, like always just aces it. He is ably supported by Nimisha Sajayan as Rosaline, his wife and partner of many years. Including this one, Nimisha has done some great work this year that tops up with ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’. Vinay Forrt plays Ali Ikka’s friend turned foe David, who lets petty anger and lack of foresight take over his sanity and a burning desire to bring down Ali Ikka, turns him into the Judas of this tale of betrayal. The ever-dependable Joju George plays a character that swings between good and bad. In a way, he becomes the reason behind the events that have consequences that make things completely go out of hand. Dileesh Pothan plays the politician who makes it happen. An ensemble as strong as this can only produce superlative performances, which it effectively does. Cinematography by Sanu Varghese captures the changing face of the region along with Ali Ikka’s rising supremacy. Editing is helmed by director Narayanan who gets a tad indulgent making the film a little longer than expected. The background score by Sushin Shyam is fabulous and instantly reminds of another classic called ‘Speak Softly, Love’ aka The love theme from the ‘The Godfather’ by Roger Williams.

Eventually, the film ends with a shocking climax that tells the audience that crime, eventually pays off its benefactors with their lives. Ultimately, the past catches up and makes the man pay for his sins. And there lies the futility of life. 

‘Malik’ now streaming on Amazon Prime. Run time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. Rated Universal.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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