Minnal Murali... a solid small-town superhero origin story that could become a potential franchisee
With high expectations and a great marketing campaign (The makers made good use of that Netflix money), the only thing the movie needs to clear is whether or not it delivers big time as far as the content is concerned. Well, the answer is a resounding yes
The superhero genre has always been celebrated worldwide including Indians but the same couldn't be said about the content made by the Indian cinema in general. This month itself saw the release of Spiderman: No Way Home which became the biggest movie of the year and within a week, Netflix released Minnal Murali on Christmas Eve. With high expectations and a great marketing campaign (The makers made good use of that Netflix money), the only thing the movie needs to clear is whether or not it delivers big time as far as the content is concerned. Well, not only the answer is a resounding yes, but it also just might be the best Indian superhero film to date (admittedly it's a low bar but still it's thankfully miles ahead), and also it's one of the rare Netflix South Indian original movies which turned out to be solid. (Jagame Thandhiram, Navarasa, Boomika, Irul were disappointing entries if you were to name a few this year alone). Now with that out of the way, here are some of the key reasons as to why this movie worked.
...This reunion works once again as Tovino has proven himself to take up challenging roles in the past (This year alone had Kala and Kaane Kaane to display his range) and here he perfectly fits into the world of Minnal Murali...
The premise involves a small-town in the 90s with the tailor Jaison as the lead (played by Tovino Thomas) who plans to move abroad to the US for a better life. But things go south as he gets struck by a lightning and oddly enough he survives. However, while his recovery is quick, he soon realizes that he might have attained superpowers, and in the process, he meets a dark and dangerous foe who might have also got his powers from the same source as Jaison. The movie is narrated as a period piece by Basil Joseph who previously directed Godha who also had Tovino as the lead. This reunion works once again as Tovino has proven himself to take up challenging roles in the past (This year alone had Kala and Kaane Kaane to display his range) and here he perfectly fits into the world of Minnal Murali. The USP of this movie is about how would a superhero fit in a small-town whose residents are subject to gossip and social bonding to the point everyone knows each other.
The story alternates between the hero's journey and the supervillain's origin in which both are struck by the lightning at the same time. While the hero's arc, Jaison's has the usual upbeat, cheeky sense of small-town humor, Shibu (played by a terrific Guru Somasundaram) has his arc told in a tone of a melancholic tale of a doomed romance as well as a dark psychological drama (à la Joaquin Phoenix starrer Joker). The latter's story arc is surprising considering Basil Joseph's previous entries Kunjiramayanam and Godha have a particularly light feel in terms of their tone. Here, not only does the director pull it off with this arc, but this arc specifically works because of Guru Somasundaram's performance. Two key moments, in particular, gave me chills when he goes full supervillain. One is where he preps himself up to cry out for help when a shop is getting burned down (shown in the second trailer below) and when he turns his head to his former employer as a means of intimidation who suspects he may have done it. He also has an intriguing plot point about his longing towards his old crush who herself has been ostracized by the town as she eloped with her lover.
Tovino Thomas who plays Jaison on the other hand has the everyman charm we all love about small-town heroes. He plays this role with ease with his sharp comedic timing, scenes that involve him doing the usual superhero montage of discovering his own powers, and even when the movie gets serious, he backs it up with some solid emotional beats. The rest of the cast are superb in their own quirky way with each of them serving the purpose for Jaison's tale especially Vashisht Umesh as Jaison's nephew Josemon who uses superhero comic books as references to guide his uncle with his newly-found superpowers.
...the world-building, comedically brilliant ensemble, and a confident turn from the Basil Joseph-Tovino Thomas duo ensure us with the idea of a sequel with bigger stakes and grander returns...
It also helps that it is technically well made even for a mid-size budget. Sameer Thahir's cinematography balances the tonality really well with some great establishing shots (Minnal Murali beating up cops within the school premises is stylized like a comic book panel) as well as being less flashy when compared to his previous works. The soundtrack by Shaan Rahman and Sushin Shyam brings different flavors whilst grounding it according to the film's tone. The production design also needs a big shoutout with the fictional small-town village of Kurukkanmoola, and the big climax is set in a carnival. The movie however does feel long as it goes on with a runtime of 2 hours 40 minutes, and we only get to Jaison donning the costume within the last 20 minutes of the film. Also, Jaison's relationship with his ex-lover could've been explored a little more but I guess it might have been in the cutting room for now. That isn't to say, the moments before that weren't engaging but the world-building, comedically brilliant ensemble, and a confident turn from the Basil Joseph-Tovino Thomas duo ensure us with the idea of a sequel with bigger stakes and grander returns. It might not be on Netflix but who knows? Cause this movie has the highs of watching it on the big screen.