Films about superheroes primarily focus on their superpowers and their inherent strength and talent. However, many a times we fail to recognise that superheroes are nothing but common people with superhuman abilities or so-called "superpowers". And that is where Minnal Murali outshines itself – for it reminds us that beneath these otherworldly powers, lies a person like you and me.
Jaison, a simpleton who wears his heart on his sleeve, is a tailor by profession and is on the cusp of migrating to the US. Having had his heart broken by a woman, he is filled with even more rage and determination to get out of the small village that his life has revolved around. We also see the tale of another person – Shibu – from the same village, who everyone has relegated to being the village vagabond. Prima facie, he means no harm but because of his scruffy appearance and peculiar character, he has been labelled as 'mad' or 'mentally-ill'. The fact that his mother suffered from a mental illness further makes people reaffirm this as fact. One fateful night, both Jason and Shibu get struck by lightning, resulting in both of them being bestowed with certain powerful abilities.
To term Minnal Murali just a 'superhero film' would be grossly incorrect. As much as it is a story of two men with superhuman abilities, it is also a story about a man's yearning for love, a story about finding one's identity and purpose, a story about loss and revenge. But at its core, it is a story about the misuse of power. In my opinion, any superhero is only as powerful as his antagonist – therein, lies the brilliance of Minnal Murali; it excels in creating an antagonist that is perhaps equally, if not more, powerful as the protagonist. Minnal Murali stands out primarily because of the writing by Justin Mathew and Arun Anirudhan. From the very preliminary reels of the film, we are engulfed in the story of Shibu and his trials and tribulations. The writers take the gutsy decision to give a more touching arc to the antagonist and brownie points to them for that.
As viewers, we are inherently conditioned to root for the protagonist, but Minnal Murali presents us a with such a compelling tale about Shibu that there comes a point where we find ourselves in internal conflict – and that is no small achievement. In one sequence, Jaison tells Shibu "Both of us were struck by the same stroke of lightning" and I believe this equity of power between the both of them is what distinguishes the film from the rest in the genre.
In addition to the above, there is one striking aspect I noticed which I felt was dissolved amidst the other proceedings – and that is the subtle subversion of gender roles in the film. Before, we have seen that, beneath the sheen of their powers, superheroes are usually extremely masculine men with androcentric professions and the female lead is simply a damsel in distress. But here we see that Jaison is a tailor and Biji, the lead actress, is a Karate instructor. Additionally, the impetus given to Biji's character is also visible in the climactic sequence. We see that her efforts and actions in the climax are perhaps almost as significant as that of the superhero. Despite being quite subtle, it is a mark of some impeccable writing.
Having said that, the film does have its share of faults. The exposition of the film felt slightly overstretched. With a running duration of close to 2 hours and 39 minutes, there are certain sequences that seemed to be overindulged – specifically the portions involving Aju Varghese (Pothan). Conversely, the climax seemed rushed as well. Also, the background score was quite anti-climactic in various crucial sequences and had it been done differently, it could have amped up the feel of the scene. However, Basil Joseph and his team manage to sail through these minor flaws and emerge victoriously in giving us a superhero origin story with a heart of gold and an immensely appealing local flavour. Whilst Tovino Thomas pitches in an earnest performance, it is undoubtedly Guru Somasundaram who steals the show with his flawless portrayal of Shibu. The fragility with which he delivers the emotions of Shibu is spot-on. Debutante Femina George as Biji is a wonderful find. She has an adorable sense of comic timing and reactions that resemble the performance of Manju Warrier from the early 90s.
Minnal Murali, for me, can be encapsulated in a quote by the famous crime novelist, Patricia Cornwell – "I believe the root of all evil is the abuse of power". Jaison and Shibu are simple men with simple desires and both get bestowed with superhuman powers. In essence, they are both 'superheroes' in terms of their abilities. But what sets them apart is their intent – and doesn't that make a world of a difference?