All hail Minnal Murali, home grown superhero, saviour of the distressed, all-round good guy. I’ve just finished watching Basil Joseph’s crackling yarn featuring Jasion (Tovino Thomas) and his worthy antagonist Selvan (Guru Somasundaram), laced with twists and turns and some spectacular set-pieces, and I can’t stop smiling.
Let me whisk you away to a little village in Kerala, which is like any other village in Kerala till it produces these two men with jaw-dropping superpowers, one who protects, and the other who destroys. For a superhero movie whose clear target is both children and the child in grown-ups, Joseph stuffs in a fair degree of complexity. Both Jaison and Selvan have great backstories, which are slowly revealed to us. A bolt of lightning forks in sky and hits both – they discover hidden powers, and both take different forks in the road. One of the most interesting aspects of this Tovino-Basil collaboration is to show us that good and evil are the two faces of the same coin, and the choice to be who we are rests in our hands.
There are many films in the desi superhero canon. Anil Kapoor’s ‘Mr India’, Hrithik Roshan’s ‘Krrish’, Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Ra One’ are the ones that come most easily to mind. But ‘Minnal Murali’ chooses to reference popular American ones for the purpose of slipping in several hilarious lines. Jaison’s little nephew asks him, ‘have you heard of Superman and Batman’? He, who has just finished breaking a wall with his fist, replies, “Not really, who are these fellows?” Retorts the young un’: “America is surviving only because of them.” Haha.
When we are not cracking up at these cracks, we are busy following the parallel tracks of the two men, who intersect at several places, till we reach a climactic sequence worthy of superhero movies. Having suffered a tragedy of mammoth proportions, Selvan tips over completely to the other side, the remnants of humanity leaching out of him. And the only one who can save the people trapped by the burning anger of a man in the throes of pain and anguish is, of course, our Jaison.
Out come several superhero moments, some familiar — both men race past speeding cars and buses, one averts a terrible accident, saving a little girl from plummeting down a mountain-side — and the others executed with both flash and freshness. A sub-plot involving an unhappy woman with some predictable beats threatens to throw a switch, but it is thankfully not allowed to turn mawkish. And you wish another young woman, a kung fu expert nursing a broken heart, had been given more to do. But there are enough surprises to keep you going.
What’s wonderful is that at no point does the movie switch tonally: it is very aware of the superhero-ness of its characters, but it never loses sight of the fact that it is set in a real place, and there are real persons at stake. There are both Biblical overtones and elements that remind you of Hindu shastras, in the way the conflict is born and ends. This is not a fictional Gotham, nor are the fisticuffs happening in interstellar pockets, this is a village which we can relate with. This is a tough balance, this awareness of the ordinary and the extraordinary, and Basil Joseph gets it just right.
Tovino Thomas makes an unexpected superhero. He isn’t magnetic or good-looking. He is just your average fellow, trying to escape his humdrum life, coming this close to becoming a perennial loser. Until something happens, which makes him aware that he is capable of a lot more than he thought he was : Jaison is rooted and real, and that’s why we root for him.
And like all the best superhero movies, this is a coming-of-age film, where a lost child finally finds direction, knowing where he came from, and where he has to go. Minnal Murali looks like the first of many sequels, and I’m here for all of them.
Perfect Christmas movie: I suggest a watch party with cake and mulled wine.
Minnal Murali movie cast: Tovino Thomas, Guru Somasundaram
Minnal Murali movie director: Basil Joseph
Minnal Murali rating: 3.5 stars