Saturday, June 22, 2024

Malikappuram: A below-par homage to Lord Ayyappan

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Amartya Smaran

Vishnu Sasi Shankar’s Malikappuram starring Unni Mukundan, child actors Devananda and Sripath, Saiju Kurup, and Manoj K. Jayan had first hit the screens on December 30, 2022. The film turned out to be a super hit at the Malayalam box office. The makers decided to release the movie in the Telugu states looking at the overwhelming response on their home turf.

Cashing in on the success of a string of successful projects, Geetha Arts took the responsibility of presenting and distributing the dubbed Telugu version of  Malikappuram.
The 8-year-old Shannu(Devananda) is obsessed with the idea of visiting Sabarimala. Her father(Saiju Kurup) promises to take her to the holy place. However, he commits suicide in order to escape his financial problems. That doesn’t stop the young girl.

The restless Shannu and the charming Bujji(Sripath), Shannu’s dear friend, leave for Sabarimala without informing their family members. Will they be able to make it to the holy place and will Ayyappan(Unni Mukundan) save them from a gang of pedophiles?
The film starts with a textbook montage sequence that reveals the family dynamics.

Shannu keeps thinking of Lord Ayyappan all the time, be it at home, in her dreams, or at school. It is as if the filmmaker was trying too hard to make the audience understand that Shannu loves Lord Ayyapan. The first 50 minutes of  Malikappuram dilly dallies around introducing the characters. The second half of the film focuses on how Unni Mukundan protects the kids from different obstacles they face in the journey.

The screenplay is jarring at best. We get to see a lot of close-ups and slow-motion shots. The narrative shifts from Shannu’s increasing desire to visit Ayyapan to the evil child trafficking racket. The idea of the film is super clear but the director fails to keep the momentum going. The film would’ve been a lot more engaging if the makers would ramp up the emotional elements and incorporated a pacy screenplay.

Music composed by Ranjin Raj and the performances of the lead actors (Devananda, Sripath, and Unni Mukundan) save the film, in the sense that you can still watch it despite the technical flaws. Not only is the film slow-paced but lacks direction within the first 20 minutes.

Cinematographer Vishnu Narayan doesn’t try much but all the shots look clean. Especially in the sequence where Unni Mukundan fights off the goons in the forest. In this particular scene, Unni Mukundan reminds us of Ram Charan from the famous RRR climax where he’s seen in Alluri Sitharamaraju’s avatar.

Keralites hold a strong connection with the holy place. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the film worked so well in Mollywood. The audience needs a strong emotional connection to completely own a film. Malikappuram just doesn’t land right in terms of keeping the audience hooked. Will this film work in the Telugu states? Well, Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappan!

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