In Kerala’s Kurukkanmoola village, a bolt of lightning strikes two men at the same time. This will enable both men, whose personal battles make up for a separate drama altogether, to exercise extraordinary superpowers. Yet, the power is exercised in contrast, one protects and one destroys. In Basil Joseph’s home-grown superhero saga, the emphasis is not on the universe of their origin, but on the disparities of their everyday existence. Minnal Murali is ambitious in scope, yet there’s no Baahubali-like opulence. Nor does it feel shoddy like Bollywood’s repeated misfires with Krrish, Ra.One and A Flying Jatt. Joesph, who earlier made Kunjiramayanam and Godha, grounds his lungi-clad superhero with a carefully constructed reality. The result is a rousing, if an overlong film, that never takes itself for granted.
Working with writers Arun Anirudhan and Justin Mathew, Joseph spends a considerable amount of screentime in developing the characters of Minnal Murali, even before the tonal shifts to superhero saga begins. On one side, Minnal Murali follows Jaison (Tovino Thomas), a tailor who is trying to get his application processed to move to the US. Once he realises his powers, he spends a lot of time experimenting with them- mostly by jumping from a tree and gathering all the utensils of the kitchen in a second. He is then schooled by his nephew all about superheroes that are mainly in the US, resulting in a killer of a line- “America is surviving only because of them.”
The bolt of lightning also alters social outcast Selvan aka Shibu’s (Guru Somasundaram) situation forever. A helper at a local tea stall, he still waters his feelings for the recently widowed Usha (Shelly Kishore), unable to find the courage to confess his true feelings. Instead, he finds every way possible to reach closer to her, erasing anyone that comes in between. Despite his good intentions, fate and circumstances repeatedly treated him harshly. So he assembles his power- of controlling every object with his eyes and hands, to use it for his own conditions. Joseph pulls the vast parallels of these two men with immense control. When Selvan ultimately finds that there is another fellow with similar powers, who inscribes Minnal Murali after his efforts, he takes advantage of that disguise, writing off his name after looting a bank or burning a shop.
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The showdown takes its own sweet time to arrive, but when it does, it takes a tonal jump worth the wait. It feels like a far stretch at times, given the length of the story that Minnal Murali has to offer throughout its 158-minute runtime. But cinematographer Sameer Thahir and editor Livingston Mathew bring a sharp pointedness to the sprawling narrative, ensuring that the interest sticks right till the full-blown end. The superhero action really comes to foreground near the interval, once the narrative grounds itself in its specific setting- it in the early 90s, bereft of mobile phones and computers, where the current success of Manichthirathazhu, Sudheesh, has come to the village fest
Tovino Thomas, with his boy-next-door charm, slips into the role of Jaison easily. He also makes the transition of Jaison- from a man-baby to a responsible superhero coming to terms with his past- believable. Unlike most superheroes, Jaison has an every-man resemblance that makes us root for him even more. Thomas nails that spirit. Credit has to be given for not overdoing the romantic track with his local sidekick Biji (Femina George), with her own karate institute and travel agency. Still, it is Guru Somasundaram, who runs away with the film. His Selvan is a misplaced antagonist, accommodating the evil because he has no other way to meet his needs. Somasundaram creates a compelling villain, making us root for him even harder in the face of the inevitable. His arc with Usha results in a tear-jerker of a sequence near the final scenes, punctuated with a stirring background score by the ever-reliable Sushin Shyam.
Minnal Murali (2021) reaches its grand showdown with a lot of spirit and ambition intact. Joseph has cracked the code for the superhero film without imitating the Western tropes, with an origin of its own. Minnal Murali is sure to offer many more opportunities for its every-man hero, and coming from a regional industry that has continuously hit the bull’s eye for better results, this is a great cap to 2021.