Malayankunju review: Fahadh Faasil perfects the act in gripping survival character drama
Mahesh Narayanan and director Sajimon, uses this character study as a basis of what transforms into a survival drama, and makes us ask, "Do we have to root for an unlikeable guy?". The answer weirdly is a resounding yes...
Fahadh Faasil and Mahesh Narayanan have been on a roll lately. Ever since the pandemic hit, they were the first ones in the film industry who have decided to make a movie using FaceTime, Zoom calls to showcase a high-concept thriller C U Soon, which was one of the early Malayalam movies to stream on Amazon Prime. This was a critical hit as well as an audience favorite and things looked up for the duo ever since. The very next year, they released quite possibly their biggest project to date Malik, and while this was released on Amazon Prime, one could argue this movie has the makings of a perfect theatrical movie-going experience.
It also got itself a National Award for Audiography, but here the highlight is once again Fahadh Faasil's transformation as the doomed yet enigmatic gangster Sulaiman Ali. So naturally when their next movie Malayankunju was announced (although this time Narayanan has opted for writer and cinematographer credit), one knows the hype it generates with the addition of bringing back A.R. Rahman into Malayalam cinema after 30 plus years.
Malayankunju revolves around Anikuttan, a man who's pretty much a stick in the mud towards society (wow, inadvertent foreshadowing), and comes off as an anti-social casteist who has issues with everything around him. One particular issue especially bugging him is the voice of a wailing newborn baby outside his house and he often finds himself in trouble for disturbing the peace between him and the newborn baby's parents. His behavior is unraveled slowly as proceedings go as he's faced by a personal tragedy, and how people behaved towards him at that particular moment before the tragedy strikes.
Mahesh Narayanan and director Sajimon, uses this character study as a basis of what transforms into a survival drama, and makes us ask, "Do we have to root for an unlikeable guy?". The answer weirdly is a resounding yes, but it does have some nagging issues along the way like the character's struggle to get out of the mud buried over him.
The character, Anikuttan as mentioned isn't an easy guy to like. In fact, this is where things could easily go wrong even if the character was justified by his actions. But Fahadh Faasil once again wows us with his pitch-perfect performance here as he doesn't mind exploring the tragic side of him whilst imploding on others as if he wants nothing to do with them as he believes they have wronged him.
His roots of becoming a casteist is due to a predicament he and his father faced when his sister (played by Rajisha Vijayan) elopes with her lover from a lower caste while she was about to get hitched. This is all done not by telling us about the incident but by certain story beats unfolding and visual cues through Fahadh's acting. Look at the scene where he looks over a guy next to him while passing over the curry bowl and knocks it down slyly.
Movies especially Malayalam cinema have been lacking the urgency to convince the audience to sit in a theatre (not that all movies haven't suffered; Bheeshma Parvam, Jana Gana Mana, and Jo & Jo were huge hits at the box office), and thankfully Malayankunju has few good reasons as to why it demands the audio-visual experience in the theatre.
One is the exquisite sound design where the rain plays like a prominent character; each time the story progresses with big narrative beats moving along, the rain gets more intense as it goes on. Even little moments like a father-son hunt will make you jump a little on the seat when you hear guns firing and wild pigs moving around.
The second factor is the visual cues foreshadowing the journey and how it impacts the story emotionally. A newspaper clipping highlights how much the tragedy has affected Anikuttan personally or a jeep's headlamp used as a torch to look into the dark (this would come up in the key scene which we'll get into), and of course how the baby's cries which once annoyed Anikuttan would eventually becomes the driving force for not only his survival but even the drive for him to save the baby as well.
The production design is another key factor here as it recreates in detail as to how a person is stuck inside buried underneath the earth with forces of nature attacking him in unpredictable fashion. This might be a bit divisive factor as while it is painstakingly recreated and becomes a major narrative set piece, the shot lighting is wayward and could trigger claustrophobia (which could be the intended reaction but nonetheless there must be a warning for certain viewers who suffer from it)
The score and the soundtrack done by A.R. Rahman while pretty great as standalone work, doesn't justify well in the first half as some of the narrative beats do not match the music it plays. It's only in the second half, the score kicks up to a 11 and A.R. Rahman finds his element here with some of his surreally beautiful works here.
Also the writing can have some moments of filler especially in the first half, they kind of drag the narrative as if the runtime is getting padded in the process.
But with that said, the survival drama here is basically a culmination of a lesson to be taught for a charater like Anikuttan; where he slowly realises that life as we have is taken for granted. It comes off as a great character study about an anti-social man turning into an empathetic hero who at the end of the day may have done a good deed.