Basil Joseph’s film knows exactly what it is – the first superhero film from the Malayalam film industry. It also knows what it can be – a superhero film that rings true even for an audience that is used to regular doses of superheroes from the global beast that is the MCU. With a collective effort, the film sticks the landing, and we have Minnal Murali.
‘Minnal Murali’ Plot Summary – The Origin Story
Minnal Murali is a film determined to hit the beats of a classic superhero tale. We get to witness the birth of this superhero of a little village. Struck by lightning, our slightly spoiled, jovial, and mostly unbothered Jaison is treated to abilities that his nephew calls ‘superpowers.’
Tovino Thomas plays this character with easy charm and inspires joy in the audience as he goes about discovering, testing, and ultimately enjoying his abilities. He can run so fast the Earth shakes, punch whole doors down and crack entire bricked walls with a fist. He cannot fly, but he does have lightning-fast reflexes that serve him well. It is a treat to discover the powers of Kerala’s first superhero.
He chooses Minnal Murali, named after a play his late biological father was preparing for. It is not rushed or random, and we are given flashes of this father, guiding him along to the self-discovery he is destined for. He does not need or think of a costume till the very end. He will pick anything that can cover his face until then.
A good superhero story has both a villain and a hero that we are interested in and invested in. A great superhero story has a villain that we can empathize with and still be afraid of. In Minnal Murali, we have legendary, with a villain even the hero can empathize with, if not agree with, and genuine moments of heartbreak on the audience’s part for this villain.
Our villain is struck by the same lightning that struck our hero. Shibu is a hopeless, aimless man, nearly invisible to the village except when he’s being taunted for having a mad mother and going the same way as her. He is not a character we can understand in one go. He is peeled back in layers, discovering his powers much like Jaison. But we see little moments of anger and a capacity for violence that show us where he is heading.
Shibu’s only motivation is the woman he has loved since school. A woman with a brother who detests him and a daughter who is gravely sick. We see her through his adoring eyes, and we know that however he becomes a villain, it will be a consequence of loving her. As his love and new abilities make him rob a bank for her daughter’s operation and physically threaten his boss, who taunts her, it hurts but is not surprising when he finally kills her disapproving brother. Shibu has donned his villain’s cape.
The Wounds of a Village
As Shibu uses Minnal Murali’s signature at the site of his crimes, the village is torn in confusion. They have seen Minnal Murali rescue a bus full of villagers and a young girl on the verge of death. He can’t be the one who set a shop on fire and crashed a car into a quarry. But there are no loud calls of propaganda on the streets. This is a village in Kerala, after all. Their adoration will be seen on graffitied walls and inside local buses. And in these little moments, we see that Basil has not sacrificed the backbone of Kerala culture in this superhero story. It is never ‘larger than life because it is quite visibly happening within the normality of life.
It is revealed to the town after a point that the man they are after is Shibu. As the crowd gathers outside his home, sticks held high and aflame, and we witness that cruel twist of fate. Usha has finally come. She has decided to live with Shibu, eventually witnessing the force of the love that has kept him alive. We cry with Shibu as he breaks down and holds her hand. It is twenty-eight years of waiting. And he promises that he will not leave her. Ever.
We know it is all going to go wrong, but we’re still not sure how, as Shibu steps out to face the blazing crowd. Then, a stick is thrown into his roof, and we know. It takes the others a while, but in the end, Shibu watches as the house that holds his heart explodes. Usha is gone, and we know, so is Shibu.
‘Minnal Murali’ Ending Explained
Having lost it all, we see that Shibu has descended into the madness he has denied for so long. He is set to burn down the entire village and its occupants, the cruel beings who stole and destroyed his life. There has been no kindness thrown Shibu’s way, and it is with no remorse that he sets his bombs and crackers that are about to cause the kind of destruction the town could never have imagined.
But, where the town has an impossible villain, they also have a hero who has finally realized the depth of his powers. He must be the hero the village needs, because there simply is no one else, as the police officer who hates him says as he unlocks Jaison’s cell door and sends him out into battle. It doesn’t matter who knows Jaison’s identity because this is, after all, a tiny village. His powers have only one consequence, he will be branded protector of the village, and he must take up the mantle.
The final fight is deadly, fierce, and powerful. But we know what must happen, and we watch with bated breath as brilliant music and vivid visuals take us into Minnal Murali’s first real victory as a superhero. And we watch as he takes on the responsibility of protecting this village and his people, from whatever may come next.
Minnal Murali is a 2021 Indian Superhero film directed by Basil Joseph. It is streaming on Netflix.