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Why Fahadh Faasil’s Malik Was Just Meh For Me

If you are going to make a gangster movie now – in 2021 – it has to be more than a biographical portrait of a gangster who does bad things in order to do good for his community. Sorry. SORRY. I sincerely, genuinely apologize from the bottom of my heart. I did not care for Malik. There…I’ve […]

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If you are going to make a gangster movie now – in 2021 – it has to be more than a biographical portrait of a gangster who does bad things in order to do good for his community.

Sorry. SORRY. I sincerely, genuinely apologize from the bottom of my heart.

I did not care for Malik.

There…I’ve said it.

I did not hate it. I did not even dislike it. I just had a meh feeling at the end of it.

I know, I know. Blasphemy. I’m the non-Malayali speaking philistine who did not ‘get’ Malik. And that may just be true. But what is also true is that I’m a massive, mega fan of Fahadh Faasil. Like, I’m a bona fide, 100% crazy fan of this insanely incredible once-in-a-lifetime artist of all time. So, when I heard that this was Faasil’s version of Nayakan – I was like…SIGN ME UP.

Look. I wanted to love Malik. But, unfortunately, I didn’t. What was worse with Malik for me was that I didn’t actively hate it either. Like…I HATED Trance. Especially since it dealt with a topic that was so unique – especially within Indian cinema and there were some incredible moments in the film. But, overall…it was a BIG NO for me. I’ve actually written another post just on Trance and I’ll post it soon. But, Trance…it made me angry. There were times when I yelled at the screen when watching it.

With Malik…I…shrugged. Yep. That’s it. I shrugged.

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Let me explain why. Please bear with me. Again – I LOVE FAHADH FAASIL. I f…ing LOVE Malayali films. Even the worst Malayalam film is better than some of the best films in other languages. I want that understood. Maybe my standards and expectations from Malayalam cinema is sky-high now? So, this is not me bashing a superstar because it’s click baity thing to do to get more readers. Please know that.

So – let’s talk about what I liked about the movie first

As Malik…Faasil inhabits the role.

This is NOT Fahadh Faasil playing a role. This is just a gangster named Malik who looks like Faasil. Yes. That’s just how good this actor is in the film. How he ages from a nubile 18-year-old to a 60-year-old – from his talk, his walk, his mannerisms, his vibrant and joie-de-vivre as a young Malik to the tired and beat and grieving older man – Faasil is genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime actor to come out of the world of cinema.

Some excellent acting other than Fahadh’s.

If I thought that Faasil would be in every frame of the movie – boy, was I wrong. There are so many well-conceived and well-executed roles in the film. In fact – I was pretty overwhelmed with the number of important roles and actors in the movie. So much – that even as much as I loved that others got a chance to show off their skillset – it also showed just gracious and confident an actor Faasil is to allow others to have such powerful parts. Really – there are no small parts. Just petty actors. And Faasil is not one of those petty actors.

Nimisha Sajayan.

The stellar actress who plays his girlfriend / wife. Oh, man. There is such scorching chemistry between these two actors. And only in Malayalam films are directors bold enough to let a female actor be presented on the big screen with no makeup and allowing her zits to take centerstage on screen. And it takes major cajones for an actress to show her bare face like Sajayan does.

BTW, it also speaks volumes about the kind of audience that Malayalam cinema has – so sophisticated that they understand full well that caked up, fully made-up girls would never exist in the socio-economic milieu the film portrays.

13 minutes taken in a single shot.

The 13-plus minute single shot at the beginning of the movie. WOW. What else is there to say? This is a director who knows his story and he has surrounded himself with artists – both in front and behind the screen – who know and do their job in a stellar fashion. Take a bow, DOP Sanu John Verghese.

In terms of the screenplay itself – two interesting things.

  1. The three narrator story-telling was an interesting touch. It allows us to see three different points of view.

  2. Nice little twist at the end re Malik’s final moments. In hindsight I should’ve seen that coming since the director gives us a hint before.

Now for why this movie still didn’t do it for me

Malik didn’t meet the expectations Fahadh fans have.

Look…this is probably a bit of a double-edged sword. Faasil has now become the biggest pan-India actor who is probably on the wish list of every top director in India. Because he is that good. People like me who have barely watched any Malayalam films now watch everything that he is in. That’s how much of a name he has made for himself.

Now this also means that every film – here on forward – will come with expectations. Sky high expectations. It’s probably unfair but that’s the price he has to pay for being regarded as, perhaps, the best actor working in India now. So, it’s just not enough that Faasil performs supremely well each time (which he does). But every movie he picks, every story he tells HAS TO BE AMAZING. Malik wasn’t.

A gangster movie in 2021 has to be more than Nayakan rehashed.

And I’ll tell you why. Circa 2021 – we now live in a world where people like me watch The Sopranos, Peaky Blinders, Narcos, Ozark and Malik in the same week. If you’re going to make a gangster movie in 2021 – it HAS to offer something more – so much more than a regurgitated version of Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan.

If that was harsh – then so be it. Mani Ratnam made the most definitive gangster films that I have ever seen come out of India over the past two/three decades. And I say movie(s). Plural. Because everyone only thinks of Nayakan when they think of Mani Ratnam and gangster movies. And Nayakan was brilliant. Is brilliant. But he also made Thalapathy with Rajnikant and Manmooty. Another supremely masterful gangster movie based on the retionship/friendship between Karna and Duryodan relationship from the Mahabharat. And he made these movies in the 1990s.

So, sorry. If you are going to make a gangster movie now – in 2021 – it has to be more than a biographical portrait of a gangster who does bad things in order to do good for his community. This is a gangster trope that has been there. Done that. Seen that many times over. And have multiple t-shirts to show for it. While Malik is a wonderful canvas for an artist like Faasil to show off his talents – as an audience member – I wanted more from the overall story. So, while the story itself was solid – it was/is still very old. And Malik’s biggest problem is that it felt very old-fashioned.

I hated David…when we weren’t supposed to?

This is very personal. I wanted to be on David’s side. But I couldn’t. As much as I get that he felt gypped by Malik (while we – the audience knows was not Malik’s fault) – all sympathies went out the window when he admits to hurting Malik’s son.

I didn’t get that at all. I’m wondering – did I misunderstand? If he actually was responsible for Malik’s son’s death – on what planet does he and his wife think it’s OK to hold a grudge against Malik? The narrative lost me here. Because when I realized that – I HATED DAVID. And I don’t think the director wanted that to happen. We were meant to sympathize and empathize with Malik AND David. Because that was at the crux of the movie. That was the core conflict. And when I took one person’s side over the other completely – the movie was over for me.

And this one for being a non-Malayali.

I apologize. This one was hard for me. As a non-Malayali watching this movie and watching it with subtitles – it was really hard for me to keep track of the overwhelming number of ‘other’ characters in the film. After awhile – some of the faces started to blur and look and feel similar. I guess I could always watch it again and get a better sense of who is who in the film. Unfortunately, the film is just not that good for me to give it a second look.

After Trance – this is my second consecutive Faasil movie that I’ve not liked. I still have Joji left to watch.

If Trance was over-the-top in a very bad way, Malik was very old, and old-fashioned.

BUT…

I still love Faasil. I still think he’s the bee’s knees. But he has to start picking the right stories. Audiences are too spoiled for choice these days and even a diehard fan like me will not watch his next film unless it offers something really new and original.

First published here.

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