Countless trees have been felled and gigabytes of data consumed to sing praises at the altar of Malayalam cinema. Malayalam cinema is conventional in terms of the realistic and experimental content that it churns out. So what would be unconventional in this world? An action-packed commercial entertainer perhaps. Outside the echo chambers of high-brow intellectualism, there are few things that work like a well-made 'mass' entertainer. The movie that projects a larger-than-life protagonist but does not treat its audience with condescension. The kind where you can smile at witnessing the victory of 'good' over 'evil' but also grin with appreciation at the lead named as (d)evil. From an industry that is known for its avant-garde content, Prithiviraj Sukumuran's directorial venture Lucifer starring Mohanlal is an example of how to approach the tried and tested with finesse.
Traditionally the big-hero blockbuster has been associated with Tamil and Telugu industries but 8 out of 10 of these movies have fallen victim to the curse of the template. As the budgets for these movies have grown, the plotlines have shrunk. Lucifer is a self-aware movie. The writer Murali Gopy knows that the character arc of the protagonist has been recycled umpteen times on screen. So, he makes his screenplay interesting by peppering it with elements of political game plans, religious metaphors, and commentary on the mainstream media.
The protagonist is introduced by a journalist (Indrajith Sukumaran) who talks about him in the same breath as other conspiracy theories like the Illuminati. This, at once, makes the narrator unreliable and the story, seemingly apocryphal. One is intrigued to find 'facts' about this character. As the film progresses, we get to know of two more names associated with him. Lucifer, Stephen and Qureshi Abram (the unholy trinity). Lucifer, first of the fallen angels as per the Bible, is introduced in a church This character does not need the crutches of deafening background score or flying goons for his introduction. The mystery created by the narrator and the intensity in Mohanlal's eyes convey all there is to convey. He does get the background music and flying goons in the climax but in an interesting subversion, not generally associated with a 'hero' movie.
We are spared the mandatory 'avar yaaru theriyuma' (are you aware of this man's stature?) flashback associated with these movies. Yet you know almost everything you need to know about this man. Through his actions, through whispers from supporting characters. The interval scene has a delightful moment set inside a prison that one would not associate with a movie like this and that is what sets Malayalam cinema apart. It is a casual conversation in a prison cell that covers unworthy children (in the present as well as from the pages of mythology), courteous political rivalries and culminates with a song for the comrade (not in the narrow sense that it has taken in the country's political discourse, but in the broader sense, signifying companionship).
That is not to say that the movie stops being entertaining for a second. Lucifer does beat up the villains and silence them with a Sarkar-like 'na karoonga, na tujhe karne doonga' punchline; and my favourite part – the devil quoting scripture. The last person to quote Ezekiel 25:17 on screen was a certain Samuel L. Jackson in the cult hit Pulp Fiction. Mohanlal's rendition of the quote is diametrically opposite to Jackson's in tone and in delivery, and yet leaves the intended result – putting fear into the opponent. While the movie has the conventional villain personified in Vivek Oberoi, there are other opponents like the drug mafia and mainstream media. The treatment of media is another highlight of this movie. A media house is shown perpetrating yellow journalism and cutting corners to get TRP. However, it also makes the owners of the media house humane and resolves that sub-plot with a practical, as opposed to an idealistic, solution.
While the world of Malayalam cinema has provided solace to many kindred cinephiles during this lockdown through influential films like Mahesinte Prathikaran and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, to attract the larger audiences back into the magical arena of the theatre would need the large extravaganza. As a character in this movie remarks, the reaction to a 'masala' movie tells us the pulse of the population. Here's looking at God's own country to set the precedence in that direction as well.