It's tough nowadays to choose between a Priyadarshan comedy and a Priyadarshan epic. This year alone, he has given us both the options in the form of Hungama 2 and Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea. None of the two films are good in any way, but the latter is slightly more watchable than the former. This is not a compliment for Marakkar as it's still a movie that lures you in with the promise of spectacular special effects and wastes 3 hours of your time. And while the style and the CGI are impressive, they also undermine the film in many ways.
How? Predominantly by weakening the dramatic beats. Observe the scene where Aisha (Kalyani Priyadarshan) teases a young Kunjali (Pranav Mohanlal) that she will jump from an elevation. Before she can take the leap, we hear a gunshot, and then she falls into Kunjali's arms. Instead of feeling shocked, we gape at the perfect timing and the execution of it all. In another personally weighty instance, the adult Kunjali (Mohanlal) sits on a sinking ship, satisfied by his revenge. Again, we don't relish this triumphant moment as we are busy admiring the visual. However, the beautiful images don't act as a wall between the viewer and the character. If we cannot invest ourselves in the ongoing situation, that's because nothing is properly fleshed out here.
Take Chinnali (Jay J. Jakkrit), who Kunjali considers as his son or brother or something. You can take a microscope and scan the entire frame of this film. And yet, you won't find any hint of intimacy between the two. We know they are close because the film tells us so. Chinnali later falls in love with Aarcha (Keerthy Suresh). The romance develops when he rescues her urn from falling down. It's a feeble event where the only flexible (and fairly convincing) thing happens to be Chinnali's athletic body.
Priyadarshan is not adept at creating action either. He prematurely gives us a whiff that a chase is about to happen (the hero exposes his purse in front of some strangers who scream trouble from their appearance). A conflict at sea goes on and on for eternity, draining every bit of vicious charge from it. Bodies fly in the air, heads are decapitated, skins are pierced with sharp weapons, but all this violence is carried out without fluent choreography. It's as if the director thinks that blood and severed limbs are enough to make an explosive battle sequence. But the sword fight where Chinnali takes on two characters is well done (it's the sole action scene that stands out).
The common man respects Kunjali as he serves them. This quality of him can be found early in the film, where he deflects the path of a stone moving towards a young girl. The gods, too, care for him. It rains when he is hit by a bullet, suggesting that the almighty himself is crying at his wound. The lackadaisical screenplay does not give this great figure his great due. We don't even recognize Kunjali's pain when he states that his heart trembles when he thinks of a lost loved one. The gigantic runtime persuades us to look away, rather than arouse our interest in the drama on display. I groaned when the word "INTERMISSION" appeared on screen, as it taunted me that more ennui was on its way. Perhaps, it was a big red flag when Mohanlal entered with a plastic smile. When an actor like him strikes you as uninvolved, it means that the film won't really turn better with progression. His expressions do not convey the character's inner turmoil. They just fulfil the demands of the current situation. If it's a sad scene, he will project an unhappy face. If it's a happy scene, he will give a grin. His acting – if you can call it acting – is that basic here.
The only time I was surprised was when Kunjali hit his head, and the film didn't cut to the earlier scene where her mother told him that it was a sign of bad luck. This level of trust in the audience in a Priyadarshan movie is astonishing.
When Kunjali makes his first public appearance, everyone talks about how ordinary he looks. A king says that he had the image of a monster in mind. Alas, Kunjali resembles a normal human. Similarly, Marakkar opens by informing us that it has won National Awards and other prestigious accolades. You then expect a solid project, but what you get is something that is unremarkable and uninspiring.