Malik Movie Review: Fahadh Faasil Is Fabulous In Amazon’s Over-Ambitious But Outstanding Criminal Saga
Malik opens with a flashy film that perfectly captures the adventurous spirit of contemporary Malayalam cinema. But technically speaking, it opens with a paranoid warning that captures the nation’s mood. Directed by Mahesh Narayanan and starring his muse, Fahadh Faasil, Malik walks a thin line, thematically. Accessories to Amazon Prime Video to grab it.
Lasting over two and a half hours, Malik is a suitably epic criminal saga; its reach often exceeds its hold. It covers the life of a man, Sulaiman Ali, the revolutionary leader of a coastal village in Kerala who, in the opening moments of the film, is arrested by the authorities at the airport. Fearing his growing influence in regional politics, local leaders plan to have him murdered in captivity. But Ali Ikka, as his supporters affectionately call him, is convinced that no one in the community can harm him.
Watch Malik’s trailer here:
What unfolds is an ambitious, yet often brutal, crime drama that shamelessly borrows from classics like The Godfather and Gangs of Wasseypur. Mahesh Narayanan’s screenplay, however, lacks the harsh poetry we associate with Anurag Kashyap films. It’s a complex story, told simply, despite its episodic structure and sprawling characters.
The always reliable Joju George, for example, only appears after the hour. He basically plays the Ramadhir Singh from this tale – an IAS officer named Anwar Ali who has his fingers coiled into each pie at hand, and others waiting to be baked. He and Ali Ikka go back a long way; in fact, the Malik – another of his nicknames – seems so isolated as a human being that most of his connections date back to his youth. And Anwar knows that to enter his inner circle, he cannot count on outside help.
After a first act that effectively sets up the scene, Malik embarks on a prolonged flashback that lasts about an hour. We watch a young Ali and his poor family move into a coastal village on the edge of a dumping ground – this is where Ali’s father will eventually be buried, cast like everyone else in their community by the iron hand of the majoritarianism.
The landscape is so vast that Narayanan often struggles to keep a grip on the material. But such ambition – both narrative and thematic – is what makes the New-Gen movement in Malayalam cinema so exciting. For example, the full impact of an insult a character throws at Ali is felt about an hour later, when we have crept into the past and watched their relationship develop. Like Mystic River, Malik is essentially the story of three friends who are stranded on different shores after fighting together as common goons in their youth. While Ali and Aboobacker (Dileesh Pothan) are Muslims, their pal David (Vinay Forrt) is Christian. To complicate matters, Ali falls in love with David’s sister, Rosaline (played by Nimisha Sajayan, who did more of a good job in 2021 than most actors can handle in a whole career).
Narayanan tries to make a pretty grandiose statement about communal politics here, albeit in a straightforward way. Basically, he frames his ideas through a personal lens – in many ways, Malik is a character study of the rise of a messiah-like man and the almost biblical betrayal that brings him down.
Working for the third time with Narayanan, better known as editor, Fahadh Faasil is pure fire in the central role, which sounds like the understatement of the year, but there you go. The actor – an indisputable national treasure – finds an emotional line that connects the more revolutionary Ali of the 80s to the darker Vito Corleone-style figure of the “today” portions, a man in the throes of deep melancholy. Like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Faasil’s dominant onscreen aura penetrates through his sinewy frame.
Aided by a lush score by Sushin Shyam – which changes tones and genres in tandem with the film – Malik is an ever surprising experience, despite its derived origins. It is a Chronicle of an announced death, which takes place in a contemporary India which could as well be medieval. But even I didn’t expect him to transform into True Detective season two in his final act, when he suddenly becomes obsessed with the intricacies of real estate scams and the highway mafia.
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Malik is not so much a dissection of the concept of a strong man as a simple representation of it. Without those pesky subtitles, the film quite possibly could have caused a stir. But luckily for all of us, I don’t think the people who tend to cause these kinds of problems are particularly fond of reading. It is a political drama that masquerades as a gangster image. Identifying the difference between the two, as always, is up to you.
Director – Mahesh Narayanan
To throw – Fahadh Faasil, Dileesh Pothan, Joju George, Nimisha Sajayan, Vinay Forrt
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar