Minnal Murali is yet another film that has made the New Wave of Malayalam cinema worth more entertaining.
Set in the 1990s, Minnal Murali is the origin story of Jaison, an ordinary man-turned-superhero (Murali) who is struck by lightning and gains special powers. However, he soon realises that he is not the only one in his village who possesses these superpowers.
We have been so obsessed with American superheroes that every reference goes to the superpowers Hollywood has shown in the past several decades. So what if a homegrown Indian superhero is inspired by American superheroes? This is where Minnal Murali passes with flying colours. It's not trying to copy the Supermans and Batmans of the world and making sure he is in the same league as them.
Everything about the Malayalam superhero flick is designed to look like its Western counterparts. The film has Jaison (Tovino Thomas) looking to make it big in the West with his tailoring skills. Little did he know that's not the only talent he had imbued over the years. A naive Jaison thinks Americans will be astounded by his tailoring skills, a novelty in a world where everyone wears ready-made clothes. Not just that, he wears T-shirts that say Abibas, Poma, and Lowcoste (a rip-off of Adidas, Puma, and Lacoste) logos on them, thinking that he is wearing the original of everything.
Like every origin story, Minnal Murali is mostly about Jaison discovering his superpowers after getting struck by lightning. Director Basil Joseph and the writers, Arun Anirudhan and Justin Mathew, did a commendable job of setting the film in the 90s. Although the VFX effects are stupendous, the film mostly displays Minnal Murali’s superpowers with a natural, organic touch. A simple but effective scene is of Jaison kicking a steel tiffin box and placing it where it was. It might be something that a normal person can do, but Jaison's realisation that he is a superhero has a great punch to it.
The VFX will certainly blow your mind, as it's not something that you often see in Malayalam movies, let alone Indian cinema. The unforgettable, pitch-perfect special effects will stay in your mind thanks to the VFX supervisors, Vishakh Babu, Andrew Jacob Dcrus, and Arunlal S. Pillai.
Anirudhan and Mathew have penned dialogues that are so relatable for the Malayalam audience, including pop culture references from the blockbuster film Manichitrathazhu and more.
To add to that is the flawless cinematography by the very talented Sameer Thahir. We see this beautiful town of Kurukkanmoola, which has the authenticity of the Kerala state in terms of its people and also its picturesque locales. Thahir, who himself is an incredible filmmaker, showed his DoP prowess, proving why he is one of the best technicians in the current generation.
It's so tough to critique an Indian superhero film, which is pretty low in numbers and the first to be seen in Malayalam cinema. Over the years, we have seen genies or goblins like in India's first 3D film, My Dear Kuttichathan, released back in the 80s. However, Minnal Murali is very much special, and it's not just about this genre but also about how the people behind it put their brain and heart into it, to bring out something to be hailed about.
Basil Joseph and Tovino Thomas are the two most important people who deserve all of the praise – Joseph for being the brainchild and Thomas for putting his heart and soul into the performance. It's natural to be sceptical of a superhero film in Malayalam cinema, but it's commendable that a younger generation of talents have taken charge and created something so novel.
In the past few years, people across India and even on a global level have touted Malayalam cinema as among the best in the country in terms of both talent and content. Minnal Murali is yet another film to be added to the list of the New Wave of Malayalam cinema.
As a director, Joseph brought a very rooted story, and he allows every talent to explore their potential on screen. Minnal Murali is his third outing as a director after Kunjiramayanam and Godha. And all three films are unique in their own way, with the first two being fan favourites.
After Godha, there was no doubt that Joseph’s vision of a superhero could have been pulled off by none other than Thomas. The actor has that real-life charm and that personality, which he brings to the screen effectively. Often, we wish a director-actor duo would create magic on the screen every time they work together. In that sense, let's add the Tovino-Basil duo to the list already.
In his decade-long career, the actor has played a variety of roles that are poles apart from each other. So there's no sense of repetition to be expected from him. The actor balances out the innocence of a simpleton who dreams big and that of a superhero who puts his powers right to use. His presence in every frame lights up, as that was the honest assignment, to be honest.
Joseph does another incredible job of having a female lead and not keeping her as eye candy. Femina George as Biji, aka Bruce Lee, plays a martial artist who is tough and fearless. Without her talent as a karate artist, Minnal Murali's superhero couldn't have flown as it had to be.
Similarly, another actor to watch out for in the film is Guru Somasundaram as Selvan. Oh man, what a rare burst of talent he is. It is not every day that you see an actor show Navarasa in under a minute, which is what Somasundaram did. Not much can be or should be revealed about his character, but the bottom line is that he is an antagonist. The director shows the inception of the superhero and supervillain as two sides of the same coin, and it is rare to witness a humane side of both.
Showing the origins of the hero and the villain, Joseph considers Jaison’s tailoring skills and stitches them well to make for a beautiful parallel story.
Child actor Vasisht Umesh as Josemon is the perfect sidekick a superhero needs. The young artist is a show-stealer and is yet another talent to watch out for in Malayalam cinema.
Other actors who are a treat to watch are Aju Varghese, as a typical alliyan (brother-in-law) to Jaison, Arya Salim as his sister, and a straight-faced Rajesh Madhavan as a cop.
Minnal Murali's music is another feather in the film’s cap. Shaan Rahman and Sushin Shyam have composed peppy and quirky music that brings depth to a few songs, mainly Uyire.
Minnal Murali has all the quirks brought by the director-actor duo. The film is hands-down one of the best to be released this year across all languages.
I would call it a missed opportunity for the film to skip a theatrical release, as I was among the chosen ones to witness that experience. Moreover, Netflix had a few hits and several misses, but with Minnal Murali, they are ending the year with a bang.
Basil Joseph has taken the great responsibility of creating a superhero with Tovino Thomas as its face. And now, he needs to take the franchise forward. Until then, Minnal Murali is a treat you will relish this Christmas.