‘Malaikottai Vaaliban’ movie review: Lijo Jose Pellissery and Mohanlal’s epic is nowhere closer to the sum of its parts

Filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery tries something new with the Mohanlal-starrer, and the cinephile in him is on ample display with nods to yesteryear classics, but what we are finally left with is an underwhelmed feeling

January 25, 2024 04:54 pm | Updated 05:59 pm IST

Mohanlal in ‘Malaikottai Vaaliban’ 

Mohanlal in ‘Malaikottai Vaaliban’ 

Cinema is always about the whole, although there is often the tendency to admire the parts. More so, when the parts are as exceptional as they are in Malaikottai Vaaliban. A prisoners’ revolt that plays out in a riot of colours inside an old fort, a fascinating game of masks which leads up to revelations of the true face of a key character, Madhu Neelakandan’s arresting long shots worth framing on the wall, some amazing interplay of light and darkness, sound design that immerses one in the rugged landscape amid the breathtaking action set-pieces, Prasanth Pillai’s catchy background score that has immense repeat value and a couple of effective performances... Lijo Jose Pellissery’s film has a lot going for it.

One would expect the coming together of these disparate elements to result in some kind of a landmark film, an expectation which was certainly there especially with Lijo teaming up with Mohanlal for the first time. Yet, what we get in the end is nowhere closer to the sum of its parts. Clearly, everything must have worked during the actual filming process, for there is no technical blemish one could pin down even with a microscope. But the game was lost somewhere between the scripting board and the editing desk.

Lijo and screenwriter P.S. Rafeeque places an Amar Chithra Katha-style folk tale in a timeless landscape, and attempts to bring in a flavour of samurai films and spaghetti westerns. Vaaliban (Mohanlal), the protagonist, is a fighter with a rootless existence, journeying from town to town, taking on the biggest fighter everywhere, winning admirers, having flings with women and leaving to the next destination. The stories of his many victories announce his arrival in each place. It plays out a little differently in one of the towns, where Rangarani (Sonalee Kulkarni) falls in love with him and Chamathakan (Danish Sait), the man he vanquished, decides to plot revenge.

Malaikottai Vaaliban
Director: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cast: Mohanlal, Sonalee Kulkarni, Danish Sait, Katha Nandi, Manikandan R. Achari, Manoj Moses, Hareesh Peradi
Storyline: Malaikottai Vaaliban, a warrior, goes from town to town, taking on the best fighter everywhere, but it plays out differently in one place where the vanquished man plots revenge
Duration: 155 minutes

There are many elements that make for a compelling narrative, not to mention another one involving Ayyanar (Hareesh Peradi), but all of them remain under-explored for the most part. One gets the feeling that in all the focus on creating a visual and aural splendour on screen, the writing department took a backseat, a fact evident also in the under-written characters. As if to make up for the sluggish screenplay that just does not take off, quite a lot of things are packed into the last half an hour; everything from envy and a series of misunderstandings to betrayal and deceit. It all feels rushed and forced, except Ayyanar’s story, which works.

Mohanlal brings an element of believability to the larger-than-life fighter with a softer side to him and he plays it better than the many larger-than-life roles that he played in the past, but sadly even his character deserved better writing. Danish Sait as Chamathakan, perhaps gets the only well-written character in the film.

Lijo is trying something new in Malaikottai Vaaliban too, just like he does almost every time, and the cinephile in him is on ample display with nods to yesteryear classics, but what we are finally left with is an underwhelmed feeling. Vaaliban’s failure is not in missing the “mass” cinema elements (which it does have a couple of) that would have gladdened the superstar’s fans, but in not investing in a narrative which would have provided much-needed substance to all the style on display. Whether they will do so in the promised sequel remains to be seen.

Malaikottai Vaaliban is currently running in theatres

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