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Can Mohanlal’s Malaikottai Vaaliban become Malayalam’s breakout pan-Indian film or will it falter?

Mohanlal’s Malaikottai Vaaliban has the ingredients to potentially overhaul the all-time Kerala box office record of 2018: Everyone Is A Hero. But will it?

Can Mohanlal’s Malaikottai Vaaliban become Malayalam’s breakout pan-Indian film or will it falter?
Mohanlal in a still from Malaikottai Vaaliban

Last Updated: 10.09 PM, Jan 24, 2024


Staying coy about a much-anticipated film has often worked wonders for Mohanlal-starrers. Ask director Jeethu Joseph, whose latest outing Neru has already become the actor’s highest-grossing venture post pandemic. The opposite is also true for Mohanlal’s movies . Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, Aarattu, Alone and Monster – all of which were hyped to the skies by fans and its producers – came crashing down at the box office to dent the audience’s confidence in the superstar’s films.

So, it’s only natural that the makers of Malaikottai Vaaliban – which despite having a stalwart filmmaker in Lijo Jose Pellissery at the helm – would downplay everything about the film, leading up to its release. Right from its teaser and trailer to how Mohanlal and the team have spoken in interviews, they have given nothing away.


‘The hype for Malaikottai Vaaliban is what is scaring us’

And it was “deliberate”, its producer Shibu Baby John tells OTTplay. “The moment Lijo and Lal joined hands, the hype was unbelievable. The expectation of the audience is what is scaring us; otherwise, we are 100% confident about the movie. When expectations hit the roof, disappointment also sets in. That’s why we have decided not to feed the hype,” he says.

Shibu Baby John with Lijo Jose Pellissery and Mohanlal
Shibu Baby John with Lijo Jose Pellissery and Mohanlal

The ‘hype’ has already fetched massive numbers in pre-sales for the Malayalam period action-drama, which has Mohanlal essaying the role of a warrior, at the box office. Advance sales till Wednesday, a day before its January 25 release, hint that the movie has raked in Rs 3.16 crore already. That’s over 2 lakh tickets from almost 1,700 shows – most of which are sold out. Fans shows in Kerala start as early as 6.30am; the last time a Mohanlal movie had an early fans show was Aarattu, which didn’t quite meet the hype of the audience but the producers did stand to earn from it.

Is Malaikottai Vaaliban strong enough to break 2018’s all-time box office record?

Thanks to the good box office performance of Neru, Mohanlal fans are once again gung-ho about the actor’s next film breaking records.

Last year, with no hype and all heart, Jude Anthany Joseph’s survival thriller 2018: Everyone Is A Hero slayed a lot of records set by the superstar’s films such as Drishyam, Pulimurugan and Lucifer, on its way to become the highest-grossing Malayalam movie of all time. While the figures of Rs 200 crore seem to be far-fetched, this is what Malaikottai Vaaliban will be chasing in the minds of many Mohanlal fans.

Producer Shibu explains that neither the budget of the film nor what it plans to achieve at the box office – happened by design. “Lijo understood our problems; whatever the movie required, he requested and we have provided. He also didn’t approach the film in a way to make it a Rs 100 crore movie. He didn’t want to do a film just for the sake of making it big,” he says.

That might be an understatement, given how the distributors have gone all out to ensure that the movie reaches Malayalam audiences across the globe with 900 screens playing the film on its release date.

Mohanlal and Prithviraj Sukumaran on the sets of Empuraan
Mohanlal and Prithviraj Sukumaran on the sets of Empuraan

It’s also a litmus test ahead of Mohanlal's own directorial Barroz and Prithviraj Sukumaran’s L2: Empuraan, which is reportedly made on a budget of Rs 150 crore . More importantly, what Malaikottai Vaaliban’s makers as well as distributors are doing is once again expanding the overseas market for Malayalam cinema. The industry was just beginning to tap into its vast potential till the pandemic brought this to a grinding halt in 2020 and majority of the producers began focusing on smaller films.

If Lijo’s film does have the content that would appeal to the Malayali audience, then breaking the Rs 100 crore barrier would be easy, with this kind of release worldwide.

Mohanlal plays a warrior in Malaikottai Vaaliban
Mohanlal plays a warrior in Malaikottai Vaaliban

Can Malaikottai Vaaliban become Kerala’s KGF and RRR?

For the movie to eclipse the Rs 200 crore mark though, it would need some help from the other state markets – something Malayalam films have found hard to do. Even 2018: Everyone Is A Hero failed to do this . The makers of Tovino’s film only had themselves to blame as its delayed release made its producers compromise on a wide theatrical release in the North Indian belt because they signed the OTT deal with Sony LIV, guaranteeing that the film will begin streaming within a limited time frame.

Malaikottai Vaaliban will release in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Kannada on February 2, a week after the theatrical run of its original Malayalam version, in the same approach that was followed for the Kannada blockbuster Kantara.

The makers are wary that even if its content works for the Malayalam audience, it doesn’t mean that it will resonate with those outside Kerala. Mohanlal’s Lucifer is a prime example. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t holding out hope.

“As of now, Malayalam cinema hasn’t had a breakout movie on a pan-Indian level. But our viewing sensibilities are different from the rest of the country. The big-budget movies from the South like KGF, RRR and Baahubali that have worked across India belonged to a different genre. It’s far from reality. Malaikottai Vaaliban has more realism. So, I can’t claim that it will do wonderfully well across the country; but the Malayalam film industry does need a breakout film,” says Shibu.

Mohanlal in Malaikottai Vaaliban
Mohanlal in Malaikottai Vaaliban

‘Malaikottai Vaaliban is visually one of the best films in the country’

Having a maker like Lijo, who has said that the film has enough to stoke the excitement of cine fans who marvel at the big screen magic with larger-than-life characters, Malaikottai Vaaliban could indeed be that film from Malayalam cinema that could break all barriers.

Shot in Rajasthan with a Sikh hero as its protagonist and infusing inspiration from Samurai and Western cultures, the film does look like one that could appeal to not just people across India, but the world. That it took almost two years to execute, with over 50,000 junior artistes just adds to the marvel.

A still from Mohanlal's Malaikottai Vaaliban
A still from Mohanlal's Malaikottai Vaaliban

“None of this happened by design,” reiterates Shibu. “I asked Lal for his dates, he allotted that and then I was searching for subjects and that’s how Lijo came aboard. Not in my wildest dreams, I thought it would be a big budget film like this. But after making this film, I am not at all disappointed because visually I think it’s going to be one of the best the country has seen.”

The jury will soon be out on if Malaikottai Vaaliban indeed has the strength to storm the fort of records or if it will falter; but if it’s the former, we hear there’s a second instalment on the cards and there could be no stopping this juggernaut.