Malik begins with a 13 minutes long single take wherein we are introduced to Sulaiman (Fahadh Faasil) and his evidently criminal enterprise. We see Sulaiman pace through the last few hours of his day before setting off on a pilgrimage. As he prepares to leave for Hajj at the behest of his wife Roseline (Nimisha Sajayan) it is made clear that he is undertaking the pilgrimage on the instruction of his wife and that he knows well that if he steps out of the safety of his residence, he is bound to be nabbed and imprisoned by the law. Why the law wants Sulaiman is only made clear through the course of the rest of the film. As expected, Sulaiman is arrested. The police understand that they don’t have enough evidence to indict him. So they decide to have him killed in the lock-up. But the problem is with the fact that no one is prepared to do the dirty work.

The police zero in on Sulaiman’s brother-in-law and close associate turned enemy’s son, Freddy (Sanal Aman). They believe that he has enough animosity for the man to kill him on their biding. Before Freddy could kill Sulaiman, he gets an opportunity to hear the man’s story from two different sources that busts open the myth of Sulaiman and presents to Freddy the true picture of a man who rose from nothing to become as important as he was. The story also bares open the reasons for which Sulaiman was all set to be killed by his own family member. The film culminates with a final shattering revelation between Sulaiman and Freddy that finally gives Freddy a clear perspective on what he should do about his mission.   

Fahadh Faasil proves yet again that there are a few instances when an actor can become bigger than a film and can carry an entire film on his shoulders. With the kind of performance that he puts in here, Faasil envelops the viewers with his charm to such an extent that most of them will not even notice the gaping holes in the narrative. The film chronicles the journey of the man from his childhood to his old age. Once Faasil takes over the character, he looks every bit the age that he is depicting. Giving the makeup department credit where it is dues, it has to be underlined that his mannerisms and the way of conducting himself do a lot to make his character look the age that he is playing. As the story progresses we see him mature and get bruised by the circumstances. We see him lose his chirpy innocence and he assumes a brooding seriousness that goes down a long way into making his character fearsome and unpredictable.

Some of the supporting cast members help Faasil to bring out his best. Nimisha Sajayan does exceptionally well to complement the man in every scene that they share. It must be noted that the brooding romance between the two is depicted with heartfelt sweetness and innocence. At the beginning of the film and then again at the end of it all, we see how far Nimisha Sajayan’s character Roseline has come in her journey as she no longer has any traces of the old innocence and wide-eyed wonder left in her. Instead, she has become a woman who has lost too many and too much to keep a count off. Now she is only concerned about saving her husband and wants just as much for her husband to save his own soul.

A snap from the movie ‘Malik’

Vinay Forrt plays David, Sulaiman’s oldest friend, and Roseline’s brother. The two start off as the best of friends. Sulaiman marries Roseline and subsequently, they become relatives. Their friendship is forged even stronger with this union but as the story progresses we see religion and religious politics drive a wedge between the two. This fault line grows so large that by the end of the film, the two are thirsting for each other’s blood. I just loved the arch of the character of David and how far it goes from where it had started. Forrt plays the character with such authority and realism that it is difficult sometimes to point out who is doing a better job; Faasil or he.  

Malik is 2 hours and 42 minutes long but the film moves at such a brisk pace that it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. For those who watch the film using subtitles it will prove to be even more difficult as the film is very dialogue heavy and whatever is told here is of importance and has to be understood to get the nuances of the plot and the drama. Ideally, this was the kind of film that should have got a theatrical release owing to its sweeping cinematography and sensational sense of visuals and scale. The fact that it is a period piece and has more beauty on display in some frames than what we experience in entire films is reason enough for this film to be viewed on the largest screen possible with the best sound. While the background score of the film is terrific, the songs, apart from a few, leave little impact. That is a very minor complaint as songs were never supposed to be its forte.

The plot of the film is ripe with political and religious overtones. One might ask, what could have been the need for bringing the Christian and Muslim angle when the story could have been envisioned without them. The answer to that question is simple and straight. The story, while fictitious draws inspiration from a region and people that are soaked in religious overtones and religion-dominated politics. One must also understand that the film’s major conflict arises out of the widening gap between the Christians and the Muslims and the kind of conflicts that poses for the protagonist and the people around him. Hence to shun the religious angle would have robbed the film of its seriousness, realism, shock value, and conflicts. 

There is another long take in the film apart from the first 13 minutes of the film. This sequence shows Sulaiman trying to get to his son as police and the public clash in the background. As he makes his way through the maddening cacophony, bullets fly in from all directions and he has to race against time to get to his son even as he finds it increasingly difficult to save from being shot. This sequence alone would have been worth the price of admission had this film been released in theatres. Fahadh Faasil and Mahesh Narayanan had previously collaborated on the stunning “c u soon”, a film that was shot during the first lockdown at Fahadh Faasil’s home and unfolded on computer screens. Malik is a sprawling epic that spans generations and has politics, romance, some action, and a lot of interpersonal drama. The two films couldn’t have been any more different and yet Naryanan seems to have a vice-like grip on the narrative and performances and seems to have outdone himself with how Malik turns out to be. Fahadh Faasil betters himself from what we got in his previous film, Joji, and delivers yet another mesmerising performance. For the lover of aesthetic and thoughtful cinema, Malik is a must-watch and will definitely be a very rewarding experience.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

Also read | Toofaan: A sorry attempt at mish mashing sports and tragic inter-religion romance

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