If you’re wondering what the hype is all about since India has already produced quite a few superhero movies from Krish to Ra.One, here’s why:
India’s first realistic superhero
Playing the role of a tailor in the small town village of Kurukkanmoola, Jaison (Tovino) is dying to escape from his motherland and pursue the American dream. Although belittled by the villagers as a good-for-nothing fellow, he takes everything in his stride and is striving to prove them wrong. Shibu (Guru), on the other hand, is a social outcast owing to his mental illness and being a Tamil migrant. On a fateful night, both are struck by powerful lightning, leaving them with superpowers of telekinesis, enhanced senses and other generic superhero traits. The film follows the trajectory of how both characters deal with the sudden changes in their lives and depicts the importance of choices made by a person. The ultimate battle over good versus evil arises, but not without a smattering of grey areas. And that’s where the similarity to other superhero movies ends and ‘Minnal Murali’ starts blazing its own trail.
Jaison is a superhero localised to the T – from wearing mundu while running at lightning speed and performing stunts to using face masks from whatever is available at hand, India is, for the first time, introduced to a superhuman with no slick frills that come attached with the westernised trope. Indian cinema has always strived to emulate the stylised superheroes of the West, namely Batman, Superman, the Marvel, and DC heroes, and failed miserably. The difference ‘Minnal Murali’ brings to the table is how a common man can relate to this superhero, who does not look ‘strange’ or ‘out of this world’.
Jaison is first seen fiddling with his superpowers and having fun with them, before realising his potential and willing to be selfless for the same villagers who had dissed him earlier. The emotional metamorphosis of a self-obsessed person who used to wear duplicate branded T-shirts of ‘Abibas’ and ‘Poma’ shows the realistic version of how a normal human reacts to being suddenly endowed with superpowers. The film does not forget its roots in the rural culture, giving the village and the villagers key roles in the plot throughout and that is its biggest win. Like the director and actor have affirmed in multiple interviews, even if the superhero factor was removed from the film, it would still be a heartfelt storyline showing the moral dilemma of good versus evil and everything in between.
Both Jaison and Shibu are heartbroken lovers and even though the latter has been painted as the villain, it’s impossible to not feel empathetic towards his actions triggered by the constant shunning of society who considers him an outsider and the ultimate destruction of his love by the same hypocritical society. Similar to the Joaquin Phoenix movie Joker, the audiences are privy to what shaped Shibu’s actions and choices, without glorifying it. Although Shibu’s intentions start out good for the sake of Usha, his childhood love, he turns out to be a victim of circumstances, leaving audiences torn between the usual black and white definition of superhero and supervillain.
The movie writers Arun Anirudhan and Justin Mathew, along with Basil, have more or less stuck to the quintessential feature of Malayalam cinema, which is to keep it ‘real’, and ensure that there are no excessive larger-than-life miracles of flying around buildings, saving damsels in distress and unnecessary song and dance routines. They have effectively placed believable superhero elements into the Malayalam sensibilities, thus producing a ‘naadan’ (Malayalam for local), humane superhuman.
In an interview with The NewsMinute, Tovino said that since Malayali audiences accept a film only if the content is on point, they stayed away from the over-the-top nonsensical trope and stuck to authenticity within the budgetary limits.
Smashing records as quick as lightning
According to data released by Netflix, on which ‘Minnal Murali’ started streaming on December 24, the film was trending at number 4 on the global Top 10 list for non-English films in just the first week of its launch, becoming the first-ever Malayalam title to be in the platform’s Top 10 list worldwide. It also featured in the Top 10 films in 11 countries on Netflix, including being number one in four countries – India, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The first superhero movie from Mollywood achieved this feat in two days and was also reportedly streamed for over 59.9L hours across the globe.
From Priyanka Chopra Jonas to Rajeev Masand, Tovino, Basil, Arun and Justin have been zipping through multiple interviews ever since the ‘Minnal’ struck, probably the first Malayalam movie to have gotten such global recognition, as a fan commented under one of the videos uploaded on YouTube.
The movie has been released in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil, dubbed in eight languages, including Spanish and Portuguese, and subtitled in 38 languages other than English. Although the film was conceptualised for a theatrical release, circumstances forced it to be released on OTT, which has in fact opened up the distribution to a wider spectrum of over 190 countries. Netflix also hosted ‘Minnal Murali’s world premiere in Mumbai in association with the Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival.
The New Zealand-based movie critic platform Letterboxd’s top ten highest rated action/adventure international films from 2021 also saw ‘Minnal Murali’ grabbing the 9th position, alongside highly acclaimed ones such as Tom Holland’s ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home.’
Is the film completely free of errors?
The hounding of Shibu and the not-so-sensitive handling of mental health has come under criticism. As also sticking to the norm of pitting a fair-skinned hero against a darker-skinned villain and the patriarchal dialogues perpetuated in the movie when it comes to Bincy’s relationship with the men in her life, have also been questioned by critics.
Some viewers and critics have found fault with the way many hailed it as India’s ‘original’ superhero, sidelining Anil Kapoor’s 1987 classic Mr India, a cult-classic, no less.
The reason both Minnal Murali and Mr India are so good is because the films find their footing solidly in the local milieu and the hero’s loser-ness. They are also stories of redemption and the hero rising. Neither film tries to ape the West like a certain superhero franchise. https://t.co/NSSP3gIFYX— Debasmita (@HitchhikerQ) January 13, 2022
Although the film is not free from flaws, it sure has spun a new narrative around homegrown heroes and created a niche space for the Indian film industry in the superhero realm sans a blind replica of Hollywood.