Minnal Murali Movie Review: A delightful possible new direction in how we tell superhero story

Movie: Minnal Murali

Director: Basil Joseph

Starring: Tovino Thomas, Guru Somasundaram, Femina George.

Rating: 4/5

The screenplay smartly lays down a very original pathway for future films involving richly etched out origin stories that tries to match foreign caped crusaders tales not with fancy budgets but with nuances, natively resonant human stories wrapped within the genre pleasures.

The superhero genre has always alluded the psyche of Indian storytellers in its ambitious, mainly due inability to lend nativity to the western gaze of the narrative designs we are used to in our tentpole Hollywood productions. Finally, a movie from India has figured out a way to make a rooted, culturally echoing portrait of the masked crusader. Minnal Murali has been in the talks for a long period of time and made its much-awaited premiere today on Netflix and the curse of the fidgeting Indian superhero space seems to be lifted. The highly stylized superhero drama gets it storytelling right in the structural level and fends off the major drawback of desi savior narrative doing one thing right; letting the origin stories sorted for the masked vigilante and his arch nemesis.

Minnal Murali is the story of two loafers hailing from a village whose life takes a turn for the better after a doomed encounter with a rare lightening phenomenon, only to lend coherence and a sense of belonging in an otherwise forgettable existence. This sounds like a pretty run of the mill premise straight out of a masala entertainer; the Indian version of the superhero film; with a physically imposing hero facing off with the menacing” bad guy” – with random songs and unmotivated action set pieces in plenty. However, Basil Joseph and his writers takes the beaten to template of the commercial mass movie and juxtaposes it with the story of two individuals who harness the same peculiar gift entrusted upon them in bafflingly different ways. Basil Joseph follows the narrative design of the usual superhero fare yet builds his two men from the ground up, with zero flab in the individual arcs.

The screenplay mirrors the life of the two men, whose character beats in a lesser movie would have been limited to wafer-thin, relentless fighting machines but here they are grounded within the confines of the crampy village and its nosy bystanders trying to figure out the strange occurrences plaguing their lives. Minnal Murali is the faceoff between Jaison (Tovino Thomas) and Shibu (Guru Somanathan), the casting works big time as Tovino effortlessly pulls of the charm and innocent naivety of the village simpleton and crosses over to the more matured messiah progression in the latter half and never lets us see the abrupt turmoil behind the cliched critical shorthand of the “Hero’s journey”. The actor shifts quite interestingly between varying ranges of emotional travel that Jaison goes through and yet maintains the vulnerability in the quainter scenes, a very delicate balance indeed.

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Guru Somanthan delivers a masterclass of a performance as the brooding, wronged antagonist on the lookout for basic dignity in a society that deems him a monster by default. The performance lurks behind a sense of displaced identity and infelt trauma that the writing fails to provide, the onus of having a great actor who lends gravitas to a pretty one-dimensionally designed part. The rest of the players including the fierce Bruce Lee Biji (Femina George), serving as the female lead here walks away with a deceptively rounded character, a rarity for the genre-focused mainly on the leading man’s gait and ability to swing from rooftops, saving the day. The film earns the actions flourishes with good setups in the first half that drives the action later on in the narrative. The filmmaking is quite smart as it builds the momentum in each action stretch with a playful approach, quite reflective of Basil Joseph’s proven command over handling humorous material like in his previous outings.

On the other hand, the film does backtrack the layered character work of the earlier half with unnecessary additions like the inquisitive terror plot, suggested by one of the cops as a reaction to the appearance of the masked hero, a not so comical add on that doesn’t add much in terms of its dedicated screen time. The basic plotline is a tad too common place for such an ambitiously mounted production. The writers add little touches like the flashback sequences involving an unfinished play and a saviour figure that felt like a very smart writing choice that’s seals the fate of the hero in a very economically conceived screenwriting stroke. The action looks great and plays with some inventive, playful ideas and promises more such detours from the filmmaker in the future like the pre-interval fight scene with the dramatic use of varying aspect ratios that makes the sequence construction more fun to look at and cinematic in its sensibilities as it is the first time that we see the hero, masked up and we get a glimpse of the probable route the film might have on its mind for a future franchise with the densely staged climactic fight scene invoking the possibilities of further adventures down similar terrain.

Minnal Mural subverts our expectations with quite a few massy movements spread out throughout the narrative that reveal key pieces of information without posing unnecessary exposition dumps on the viewer. The camera work by Sameer Thahir suits the mood of the strangely homegrown practical effects aplenty and the film is pleasing to look at with silhouettes and unique framing devices surrounding the leading man, punctuating the myth-like nature of the storytelling.

The film is sure to mark a new direction to the cultural discourse in relation to the placement of the tricky, oftentimes messy adaptation possibilities of superhero narratives in the Indian context. The screenplay smartly lays down a very original pathway for future films involving richly etched out origin stories that tries to match foreign caped crusaders tales not with fancy budgets but with nuances, natively resonant human stories wrapped within the genre pleasures offered by the heroes who save the day, at least in our collective imagination.

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