Not all superheroes wear a cape. In India, Minnal Murali wears a Mundu. Directed by Basil Joseph, the film, which released this week, has been at the top of Netflix’s most-watched for three days in a row and has won many hearts and praise.
When one thinks of superhero movies, they anticipate violence or crime or some sort of injustice, and lots and lots of pseudoscience. Minnal Murali is nothing like that. The film starts with ordinary circumstances and even the hero and the villain aren’t ‘defined’ till the midpoint.
The film is all about the ambitions of an ordinary man struggling to achieve his dreams. Unlike in other superhero fiction, where the protagonist accepts the responsibility of saving the world, Minnal Murali, in a very ‘Indian’ way, first denies it. Why should I care about the world when I am struggling to mend my own life?
The hero realises his responsibility only when the villain begins hurting his village. The setting of the movie, therefore, doesn’t move beyond a tiny dwelling — Kurukkan Moola — located in northern Kerala.
Keeping it close to real
The film exemplifies that nobody is born a superhero. One incident changes the lives of two men (the lead) and they both try to leverage their new powers for their selfish gains at first.
In fact, even the title of Minnal Murali — the name of the disguised hero — is contested till the end between Jaison (Tovino Thomas) and Shibu (Guru Somasundaram). They don’t have fancy cars and are hardworking commoners. Shibu is a Tamil migrant living the life of an outcast in the village while Jaison — an orphan — works as a tailor with dreams of settling down in America.
In one of their first fights, Shibu disguises himself with a scarecrow’s jute mask, while Jaison just covers his face with a white Mundu. Jaison, being a tailor, drapes a nice outfit at the end of the movie, maybe it’s because kids don’t feel it’s a ‘superhero’ till they see crazy costumes.
Nobody is wearing a mask in the entire film, but in Jaison’s costume (which he wears only at the end), he hides his face with a maroon designer face mask — like ones we wear in real life, thanks to Covid-19.
Love life, financial problems, aspirations, social status — everything in the movie is close to reality, except the supernatural powers of the main characters. Everybody can relate to the film.
Bits of disappointment
While it’s commendable that the filmmakers tried to keep everything real, some social evils that are prevalent in our society were unnecessarily amplified in the movie.
The most problematic part lies in the portrayal of Shibu. As a character, Shibu was not evil at the beginning of the film, he looked like a humble guy, who just isn’t heroic. Later, when the humble Shibu approaches Usha’s brother (the woman he loved since childhood and waited for 28 years), it’s revealed to the audience that Shibu had mental health issues since childhood.
He was called a ‘maniac’, which stuck with him for his entire life. This is exactly what Dasa (Usha’s brother) said to Shibu. In the final scene, it’s revealed that when he was only seven years old, he ended up killing a bull in a fit of rage because it killed his friend.
Shibu’s mental health went unchecked for years. While society’s treatment towards an outcast mentally ‘unstable’ and financially poor person is bad, it’s wrong to assume that such a person, when given supernatural powers, is going to be the villain. If Shibu was a ‘maniac’, he wouldn’t have the wit to understand the powers he accidentally got. He robbed a bank slyly and destroyed the evidence — which are all smart moves. Putting the onus of his ‘evil’ tendencies on his mental health felt unnecessary, especially in our times where it’s a subject that needs to be addressed.
Similarly, him stalking his ‘bachpan ka pyaar’ after she comes back to the village from a failed marriage, also propagates a possessive mindset. He waited for decades to express his love and tried to destroy whoever came in his way. I don’t think people in real life waste so much time on lost love. Diabolical tendencies like these don’t have to be glorified, especially when you are living in an era that is witnessing a renaissance of its cinema.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)