Malayankunju Movie Review: Fahadh Faasil delivers a stupendous turn in this coming-of-age drama
The actor's performance is replete with nuances that take a while to register
The most striking audio-visual moment in Malayankunju is of a man trapped underneath tumultuous earth, in a foetal position holding a toy, with a baby crying in the distance. Here, the ground becomes analogous to a womb for this man's spiritual rebirth. Malayankunju is, to put it simply, a coming-of-age drama. When we first meet Fahadh's character Anilkumar a.k.a Anikuttan, he is not someone to whom we immediately warm up. Many issues plague him. Among them is caste-based prejudice and annoyance at the abovementioned infant. In Malayankunju, directed by Sajimon, Mahesh Narayanan's script devotes the entire pre-interval segment to establishing Anikuttan's character. We get a sense of his daily routine -- what time he gets up when he begins his work and how he behaves with those around him. He is not entirely inaccessible, though, because he slowly reveals himself to be someone capable of redemption.
Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Indrans, Rajisha Vijayan, Jaffer Idukki
The best way to convey a character's personality is through behaviour, and Fahadh being the subtle and consummate performer that he is, rises to the challenge. His performance is replete with nuances that take a while for us to register. Take the scene at a restaurant where he pushes a bowl of curry off the table and asks for a new one just because he disapproves of the stranger who touched it before him. Some of Anikuttan's distaste is expressed verbally, like the scene where he mentions how a reservation job doesn't have as much value as the one gained by merit. There is an instance at a bar where things get suitably loud and intense, but even that moment doesn't stretch beyond what is necessary.
This must be a quality of Mahesh's writing because we know him to be a staunch practitioner of economic storytelling -- conveying a lot through very little. Malayankunju finds Mahesh as a writer who has gotten better. Even the reason for the infant's cries bothering him gets explained through a minor flashback telling us, visually, that it's not just because he has to get up and work before dawn. "The eyes and mind should be in sync," he tells a group of rubber farmers that bother him. When we learn one more reason for Anikuttan's irritable behaviour, we understand why he desperately wants everything to be in sync. Anikuttan is the sort of person who often uses his past trauma as an excuse for bad behaviour. Also impressive is the economic quality of Mahesh's camera work (his first as cinematographer), which relies mainly on available light and organic compositions.
Malayankunju reminded me of a line in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises about using the fear of death as a motivator. When a landslide destroys Anikuttan's home, he is trapped underground. The film, which tracks Fahadh's attempts at survival for the entirety of the post-interval segment, comes with a trigger warning for those with claustrophobia. As someone who has rarely felt claustrophobic, the film wasn't a challenging experience for me. But those who suffer claustrophobia often should proceed with caution. Yes, Fahadh navigates some tight spaces, and one can only imagine how tormenting it must be for a man struggling with multiple triggers. Interestingly, the infant's wailing, once a source of much pain, now becomes a source of comfort for him. Now he has a purpose -- to save the child -- and to accomplish this, it becomes crucial to shed both his biases and fears.
And it goes without saying that AR Rahman's score is a much welcome addition. After coming across recycled versions of a particular kind of score often in some of the recent Malayalam releases, Rahman's score feels so... fresh. Rahman's score perfectly reflects the fluctuating sense of oppression that Anikuttan feels in various instances. When Anikuttan is trapped, the orchestral score almost begins to sound like a prayer.
Every time there is a natural disaster, we hear inspiring stories about the union of different people who otherwise would've never met or even dared to due to various factors, some of which could be their internal prejudices. Malayankunju is a representation of such a story.