Minnal Murali Review: Tovino Thomas’ superhero movie is super mediocre

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Minnal Murali – streaming on Netflix on Friday – is a rare superhero performance from India. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has moved deeper into local consciousness, from Avengers: Endgame to one of the top grossing films in India, to most titles offering dubbing in four or five Indian languages, the country’s many film industries have more or less ignores the ever-growing dominance of costumed vigilante groups in today’s pop culture environment. Marginal efforts and false advertising aside, Minnal Murali is the first superhero company to enter the Malayalam film industry. It’s also (surprisingly) a first for Netflix in India, even if the streamer is literally reaching for all superhero qualities internationally. That shows the lack of ideas.

Unfortunately, Minnal Murali tries to overpack and doesn’t do most of it justice. The Netflix film – directed by Basil Joseph (Godha), written by Arun Anirudhan (Padayottam) and debut feature film Justin Mathew – is superficially conceived as a superhero (and supervillain) origin story. But on the side, Minnal Murali packs about half a dozen other characters in subplots that offer muted comments on xenophobia, casteism, and religious disputes. Most of them drag on senselessly into what feels like an eternity. At 158 ​​minutes, Minnal Murali is over a mile long.

More importantly, they have little substance to offer. Fortunately, Minnal Murali’s two and a half hours isn’t just about moving the plot forward – but the character-driven scenes are so lackluster that I longed for more story. Most of his flashbacks are full of melodramas and people crying over their sad past, which quickly becomes unbearable. In the present day, Minnal Murali is just too talkative. It doesn’t trust its audience. A character summarizes a scene that just happened. A song or voiceover (via a flashback) dictates a character’s feelings or mindset. And if it is unable to write scenes, Minnal Murali will simply pan to a montage in the end.

If it lets go and escapes the drama, Minnal Murali does comparatively better. The Netflix movie is largely made up of enforced stupidity and terribly sad jokes (“Spider-Man got his powers from a spider bite. Did Batman get his powers from a cricket bat?”).

Everything you need to know about Minnal Murali. need to know

But sometimes it can be really fun. In a musical sequence, the children respond happily to Minnal Murali beating up police officers (while one child is amused by snatching coconuts from the hands of every police officer). The camera – with the lens from Sameera Thahir (Bangalore Days) – reflects the joy and energy in a moment that feels like a comic film. The exaggerated tone also works at another moment when the lighting becomes dramatic and Minnal Murali is pushing into fantastic terrain. And there are some sincere and impressive shots that actually work, despite the fact that you’ve seen variations of them a hundred times in other superhero films.

Set in the tiny village of Kurukkanmoola, Kerala in the 1990s, Minnal Murali is primarily the journey of two outsiders in the community. The protagonist is Jaison (Tovino Thomas, from Mayaanadhi), a family tailor and a loser by choice. Although he has no knowledge of the outside world, Jaison has put his heart on migrating to America as he cannot foresee a promising future in which he has lived all his life. Also, his love interest from college Bincy (Sneha Babu, from Ganagandharvan) has drifted away from him and become engaged – on the advice of her cop brother Saajan (Baiju Santhosh, from Pidikittapulli), who has an ax to grind with Jaison and runs around as whether he owns the village. He’s the village sheriff.

On the other hand, we have the Shibu tea shop (Guru Somasundaram, from the Joker from 2016) as an antagonist. Ignored and mistreated by everyone in the village, Shibu finds solace in pursuing his eternally crushing Usha (Shelly Kishore), who recently abandoned her husband, with whom she once ran away. She never noticed Shibu during her school days and still doesn’t. But while Jaison dreams of a better future, such a life is out of reach for Shibus. Still, they have some things in common – in their outsider status and how they both long for a woman they don’t want or know she exists. When they are both struck by lightning that same night, it feels like Minnal tells Murali that it was her fate. It’s poetic in a way.

Minnal Murali, Don’t Look Up, Cobra Kai and more on Netflix India in December

Baiju Santhosh as Saajan (right) in Minnal Murali
Photo credit: Netflix

And, shockingly, none of them die. Instead, they are awarded various superpowers. This seems like a pointed message, although Minnal Murali never convincingly portrays it. (It doesn’t help that these particular scenes and revelations are out of order they should have been in.)

Yes, it’s a superhero movie – but the fact that lightning does not kill Jaison or Shibu suggests divine intervention. Obviously, a higher power wanted to give these two mediocre men a second chance in life. How to improve and do better guys. (Maybe not a weirdo, for example.) And while the path they begin on isn’t entirely different, circumstances and their choices are driving them apart. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. As Jaison realizes he has more to give (with the help of his superhero-loving nephew), Shibu is consumed with his need for Usha (he thinks he loves her, but he just wants Usha to be his).

Minnal Murali would have been better off directing yourself more in that direction – but it has all kinds of half-baked subplots that add little, destroy the narrative momentum, and never make you invest in them.

Saajan is one of them, with the character aiming to rub Jaison’s nose in the dirt before being partially redeemed towards the end. Saajan’s deputy and brother-in-law of Jaison, Pothan (Aju Varghese, from Adi Kapyare Kootamani) insults his wife and his masters over Jaison. Usha returns to her domineering brother Daasan (Harisree Asokan, from Ilayaraja), who decides what is best for her. And then there is martial arts instructor “Bruce Lee” Biji (newcomer Femina George), whose boyfriend quit because she once hurt his fragile male ego.

All of these supporting characters – Biji is fit to be a buddy, but that remains for a possible sequel – are given a lot of time on Minnal Murali, but they are never really fleshed out. Worse, the forced stupidity of the Netflix movie and line delivery are annoying. Just speak like adults, not actors who know they are in a comedy.

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Femina George as Biji in Minnal Murali
Photo credit: Harikrishnan P / Netflix

In the hands of a more astute director and with a leaner script that cuts the fat down, Minnal Murali could actually be a decent superhero movie given that it has the building blocks. Busy and clueless, the hero Jaison finds meaning in life after he has received superpowers. But the Netflix movie takes too long to get there, and it’s not worth the walk in and of itself. The villain Shibu could easily have been a guy just trying to do the right thing: care for a suffering woman. But the way he is characterized and how Usha’s ambivalence towards him is portrayed is never asserted. If we don’t feel for Shibu, he is not an antihero in our eyes.

Instead, Minnal Murali is overambitious to make a mistake and not sure how it spoons sometimes. Still, it looks promising as India could definitely use some local superheroes. (The Thor and Spider-Man franchises have shown it’s worth taking another swing with fresh blood.) That is, while the Indians go ga-ga over American superheroes – Spider-Man: No Way Home has one Got off to a tremendous start on the box office – they have so far shown little interest in domestic fares. Vikramaditya Motwane’s 2018 attempt, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, failed commercially (and almost ended the career of his star Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor). In addition, Netflix India has never done a sequel to any of its films. It will take something completely unexpected for a Minnal Murali 2 to happen.

Minnal Murali will be available on Netflix worldwide on Friday, December 24th at 1:30 p.m. EST. In India, Minnal Murali is available in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, and English.

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