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Thursday, August 05, 2021

Malik: A Nayakan-like story narrated in the Citizen Kane mould

The premise of Malik is very close to Mani Ratnam's classic Nayakan -- an existentialist hero who goes back and forth between his identity as a hero and a villain.

Written by Manoj Kumar R | Bengaluru |
Updated: July 17, 2021 9:05:18 am
Fahadh Faasil in Malik. (Photo: Facebook/ Fahadh Faasil)

Sulaiman Ali Ahammad is no ordinary criminal. He is a man of principle who, even when he steps on the wrong side of law, will always hold his moral code close. He takes on corruption without worrying about the price he may have to pay or the friends he may lose. But when doling out justice, he is as dispassionate and hard as those he is up against.

Malayalam hit Malik sets up Fahadh Faasil’s Sulaiman as a Godfather-like figure, who delivers his own version of justice on his native Ramadappally. The film is the third collaboration between Fahadh and Mahesh Narayanan after Take Off and C U soon. And by default, the expectations from this film were obviously high, given the last two films of the actor-director duo were such a hit. And Malik lives up to the expectations.

The film zeroes in on the hero who takes to crime for the collective good of the people of his coastal village. While he is celebrated as a hero in Ramadappally, the people in power see him as nuisance who needs to be taken out of play. Sulaiman stands in the way of greedy politicians taking over control of a coveted land near the coast. The politicians enlist the service of cops to take him out of the equation by bringing a 20-year-old case back to life. He is arrested under TADA act, and thus begins a race against time. While Sulaiman’s friends work around the clock to keep him alive in jail, cops and politicians bend over backwards to have him killed before his remand period is over. Will Sulaiman survive the prison? Will Sulaiman’s good deeds protect him from his enemies? And the age-old question: does the end justify the means? But, perhaps the most important one, who’s Sulaiman?

Each frame is packed with a lot of information, activities and clues that contribute to the audience’s understanding of Sulaiman’s legend. Mahesh even gives a mythological edge to Sulaiman as his mother recalls the story of how he defeated death when he was just a child.

Malik is technically very sound. Mahesh and his cinematographer Sanu Varghese have composed elaborate shots, which play like a relay race. So is the editing, which is also done by Mahesh as the narration seamlessly jumps back and forth in time. Malik is so dense with various storytelling techniques that one may have to watch it at least twice before one can grasp all of its layers.

The premise of Malik is very close to Mani Ratnam’s classic Nayakan — an existentialist hero, who goes back and forth between his identity as a hero and a villain. While Kamal Haasan’s Velu is tormented by this question, Sulaiman is unburdened by his sense of responsibility. In a way, he has no regrets about his actions. He leaves that decision for the almighty to make. The question that keeps him up at night is whether he should continue as a mob boss or give up his life of crime and follow the path of religion.

Nayakan takes a linear approach and we see the protagonist’s life as it happens. Malik, however, reveals Sulaiman’s life through the memories of the character who knows him. Mahesh uses a narrative style similar to that of Citizen Kane. Like the iconic film’s writer, Herman J. Mankiewicz famously said, “You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.” And in that respect, Mahesh does leave a solid impression of a man, whose personality is forged in an extremely bigoted, ungrateful and cruel environment.

Malik is not simply a story about a good-hearted mob boss. The film has many layers. The film follows Sulaiman’s philosophical quest, his political views and how he sees all symbols of authority as an expression of oppression. He is ready to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. And, on the other hand, the well entrenched religious division that are used by the powerful to manipulate people’s will to their advantage.

Mahesh’s brilliance also lies in the way he has structured the film. As a popular saying by filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard goes, “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” The ending of Malik could be constructed as the beginning of a new chapter in a seemingly never-ending fight against oppression and the beginning of the film could be considered as an end of an old chapter. The beauty of Mahesh’s editing is this film would still be meaningful even if it is narrated backwards.

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