Malik is Mahesh Narayanan's third film as director. In this interview with Baradwaj Rangan, he talks about the influence of films like The Godfather, Nayakan and Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha in Malik and why he needed the ten-minute long opening shot to introduce the world of Sulaiman, played by Fahadh Faasil, to the audience. Edited Excerpts…
Malik has a well-trodden narrative. You could say it begins with Francis Ford Coppola. In India we have films like Nayakan. A man comes from a provincial background and becomes a protector to his people with his own laws, and so on. At any point, did you feel that Malik was beginning to resemble The Godfather or Nayakan?
Definitely. I had a conversation with Kamal Haasan sir. At that stage, I told him that I wanted to adapt The Godfather and Nayakan in my own way. He asked me who was playing it. When I told him that it was Fahadh Faasil, he told me that it was the correct choice. He told me that this was the right time to do it.
The Godfather is a film that gives me different interpretations every time I watch it, at various stages of my life. It's influence has been there throughout my career. Malik isn't a biopic but when you show a person's journey from childhood to old age, there will be moments that resemble those films. I didn't worry about being influenced. I wanted to communicate my idea and there are layers in Malik that don't exist in the other films. There's something in the film that is very close to my own life. I just took the template so that I could communicate my idea to the audience clearly.
In The Godfather, though Vito Corleone has done bad things, he comes across as a very sympathetic man to the audience. It's true in Nayakan, too. Hypothetically, is it possible to show the protagonist as a bad man and still get the audience to identify with him?
I could give you the example of a film directed by MT Vasudevan Nair and directed by Hariharan sir called Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. I was inclined to create a narrative like that. Telling a person's story irrespective of whether he's right or wrong. Similar to Nayakan, Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha also has a line asking whether the person is good or bad. Sulaiman (Fahadh Faasil) in Malik knows that what he's doing is wrong. He's neither good nor bad. I was trying to explore the gray shades of his character.
We've all seen people like that: people who have their own ambitions. They are people with resistance. So, I never felt that people shouldn't connect with him because what he was doing was wrong. And in the end, Sulaiman doesn't really achieve much. Nobody is winning in the end. It's the system that's winning. Sulaiman is giving the baton to the next person already at the end of the film.
The film begins with a long single take where the audience enters a huge feast, and you hear the names of various people as you move through the large house. Did you feel that maybe you should slow down for the audience to absorb details. For example, Ameer is a very important character but the audience doesn't really know who he is until much later.
That scene wasn't there in the initial drafts; the film opened at the airport. When I was narrating the story to a few people, they felt something was missing. They were telling me that they didn't understand the character. I always wanted Sulaiman to be known through his flashbacks, from the perspectives of Jameela, David, and Sulaiman's own version. But it wasn't connecting with the audience. We are making a film for a larger audience and I need a tool at the beginning to establish his entire world in just one scene.
I need to show where he's coming from, how religious he is, why he's going to Hajj, what his problem with his mother is, his relationship with his wife. I had to establish all those things. Once I had written that scene and told people, I could see smiling faces. People finally got it.
After this sequence, Sulaiman is seen in a jail. The story happens over his fourteen days of judicial remand. I wanted to conduct the entire timeline of the film towards this fourteen day period. Since he's trapped now, in order to communicate that through contrast, I needed to show his free movement in the earlier scene: the big house, people coming in from everywhere, and he can move around. With a single shot I could create an illusion for the audience that Sulaiman has been living freely.