This piece is a lament about why Fahadh Faasil as Suleiman Ali in Malik, specifically as the older Ali Ikka, was a let-down in the acting department. There's a lot said about the unmistakable similarities between the Mani Ratnam-Kamal Haasan classic Nayakan and Malik. In a pre-release interview, Fahadh said Kamal Haasan's work was not just an inspiration but also a cloud hanging above his head. He probably made a conscious decision to avoid any resemblance to or imitation of Velu Naicker's mannerisms. Fahadh is minimalistic as the older Suleiman Ali, opting for little drama and even less flamboyance. But minimalism cannot be in lieu of completeness. There is no obvious fatigue that comes with age in Ali Ikka's body language, no visible markers of ageing – except grey hair (more a function of half-baked makeup) – or even a tonal change to his voice quality. Ali is slower in his strides and that's about it.
Fahadh's emaciated appearance became popular ever since the posters came out a year ago. Usually a character's older appearance is established by, among other things, belly fat and flabby jaws. The makers subvert this norm by having Ali Ikka lose weight as he ages. The weight loss is neither drastic nor apparent in the timespan of the story, making it an indiscernible visual difference, and dampening the pre-release hype around Fahadh's body transformation. There is no compulsion that the older version of a character should look slimmer or plumper than the younger one. The same, however, cannot be said of body language and voice, which must change with age.
I strongly think that the big screen would accentuate the incompleteness of the older Ali Ikka. The same goes for Vinay Forrt's David, who has a sprinkling of grey hair in his older appearance but nothing more in the acting or make-up departments. Nimisha Sajayan, however, was a refreshing exception, comfortably looking and playing her part as the vivacious, younger Roselyn as well as the older, beleaguered wife of Ali Ikka.
Let us set aside Nayakan for a moment and look at recent performances by Fahadh's counterparts who played characters much older than their real age. Suraj Venjaramoodu as Bhaskaran in Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 and Biju Menon as Ittyavira in Aarkkariyam, although older than Ali Ikka by a decade or two, brought in thoughtful and subtle nuances to their mannerisms that were as convincing as actual older actors performing them. Bhaskaran had a limp and a duck-like gait with toes of both feet pointing to opposite ends. The hunched back that is typical of the aged was evident even when he was seated to eat at the dining table. His lips and fingers would shiver when angry. Ittyavira had a persistent scowl, wrinkled forehead and a voice that that was telling of his age. I don't, for a moment, suggest that Fahadh should have reprised or imitated these characters' mannerisms. These are examples of what actors can bring to the table when playing characters older than themselves, whether throughout the movie or in part.
As a Fahadh fan, I had put a space-holder for Malik's entry into a list of classic gangster dramas helmed by the likes of Kamal Haasan, Mohanlal and Amitabh Bachchan. That space-holder remains blank.