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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Minnal Murali, Review: Two bolts from the blue

Minnal Murali, Review: Two bolts from the blue

Minnal Murali’s première at the Mumbai Film Festival, on 16 December, was a grand affair. The venue was the recently constructed Jio World Drive in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex, and drinks and snacks were waiting for those who arrived early. The cast and crew were present too. Viewing the film came with an embargo that no reviews should be posted before December the 24th, the day of its release directly through the streaming platform Netflix. Originally made in Malayalam, the film has also been released in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and English languages. Not being exposed to enough Malayalam cinema, I am going with the popular belief that this is the first super-hero film in that language. Let’s give it due credit for presenting a very rational and realistic superhero tale, but let us not forget that realism can often produce ordinary results.

Stitching together a story of two spurned lovers, both of whom get hit by super-charged lightning that gives them powers to move and bend things, the film bestows equal strengths to the two lightning charged individuals. Jaison (guess that is a Malayalam variant of Jason) is a junior tailor, unable to win over his beloved. Selvan is a mentally challenged ‘village idiot’, who nurses a strong desire for a girl who had been kind to him when he was a child, but who has since married, and has no memory of the childhood gesture. These two are hand-picked by the lightning god in a rare planetary configuration, when three planets get aligned. A scientist, who appears on a TV programme, predicts strange phenomena as a result of this three-in-one ‘offer’. Surely enough, lightning strikes them, but instead of being charred to death, they become larger than life figures.

Unaware of his special status, Jaison goes in for medical tests, which result in the measuring devices spinning like roulette tables. Gradually, through a series of humorous incidents, Jaison realises his powers, and begins to use them for the good of the people. He assumes the name Minnal Murali, the title of an unperformed play that his theatre actor father had written, and leaves his insignia wherever he goes, but keeps his identity a secret. On the other hand, Selvan, who cannot believe his luck, is hell-bent on wreaking havoc, if the apple of his eye is not handed over to him on a platter. Occasionally, he too leaves the insignia of Minnal Murali wherever he strikes, to confuse and confound the small town residents. Are there two Minnal Muralis? Or is it a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Jaison is unaware that there is another lightning ‘victim’ in the same neighbourhood, who is going to be his nemesis. Inevitably, the two will meet, and clash - two bolts, one of them a nut. Who will win is a nutcracker of a guess.

Originally an idea propounded by Arun Anirudhan, the film is co-written by Justin Mathew. There is nothing unique about super-heroes and their exploits; it is only the novelty of the narrative and the level of special effects that distinguishes them. Here, the narrative has shades of novelty, with the two heroes being firmly grounded, and not involved in any inter-planetary or space odysseys. By making the two players humble and almost nobodies, Anirudhan and Mathew accord credibility to their main characters. However, this is partly undone by the fact that these two persons are co-incidentally hand-picked, in the whole world, and after the strikes, never fully examined, diagnosed or treated medically. It also tests your suspension of disbelief that both are jilted lovers. Moreover, the writers take too much time to bite into the action, which, in turn, bites into our patience.

In his third directorial venture, Basil Joseph (Kunjiramayanam, Godha with Tovino Thomas), jumps into a genre that neither he nor his peers in Malayalam cinema have attempted. He has tried to be different, and to that extent, has succeeded. Special effects, when they do arrive, are in good shape, though they are largely confined to objects flying through the air and metals bending on call. His super-hero is the super-hero of the small-town villagers, not somebody empowered to save the world. He does not even venture out of his district, let alone state or country. He is a good-looker, but not one who sets hearts aflutter. Compared to Marvel and DC avatars, he just does not stand a chance. Should he then be weighed against Rakesh Roshan’s Hindi Krishh films and Mysskin’s Tamil film Mugamoodi? Let us not compare at all. Minnal Murali is a middle-of-the-road venture in more ways than one, and must be viewed with a clean slate. After all, this one is a path-breaker from Kerala.

Tovino Thomas is appealing as Jaison, his second pairing with director Joseph. When the underdog attains superpowers, and uses them with some élan, he draws applause. The film will definitely widen his fan-base. Guru Somasundaram plays Selvan, as confused and mentally challenged as the part requires. It is not a totally credible character, but he pulls it off. Femina (no connection to the women’s magazine) George makes a good and convincing Biji, Jaison’s love interest. Sneha Babu is a scene-stealer as Bincy, the martial arts teacher who also runs a travel agency.

Music by Shaan Rahman and Sushin Shyam is lilting and soothing. Cinematography by Sameer Thahir is above par. Film editing by Livingston Mathew could have done with a length of at least ten minutes shorter than the 2 hours and 38 mins. Art direction by Manu Jagadh should be commended for re-creating a small rural town that seems believable. Costume design by Melwy J. and make-up by Hassan Vandoor are in keeping with the tone and tenor of the film.

How grounded the film is can be judged by the fact the major chase in the film is a speeding auto-rickshaw versus the protagonist, on foot! How open are multiplex audiences across the country to this ‘two bolts from the blue’ kind of fare is something I shall avoid dwelling on, for trade pundits would have waxed eloquent on it, by now. Yet, I cannot help feeling that Minnal Murali is more for the hoi polloi, the single screen audiences, than for those who pay up to Rs. 1,000 for a ticket.

Rating: ***



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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