Rating: 4 out of 5.

A tailor in a small village in India gets struck by lightning and gains superpowers. What does he do with it? Not much. At least not in the beginning. And while that might seem disappointing to some viewers who expect DC/Marvel level stuff, what makes the 2021 Malayalam movie ‘Minnal Murali’ click for a lot of us is its inherent Indian-ness. Think about it – you are an ambitious adult, with a steady partner, supportive family and big dreams, would you drop your plans just because you woke up with super-speed and super-strength one day? Or just discreetly use your powers for personal gains? Not everyone wants the great responsibility that comes with great power. So the first time Minnal Murali takes on ‘bad guys’, it’s personal – they abused his father. And he isn’t clad in hero gear, instead he borrows a school student’s bird-costume to cover his upper-half, over his regular mundu (lungi).

Director Basil Joseph along with writers Arun Anirudhan, Justin Mathew have spun a relatable origin story of a small-town superhero, who takes his time to come of age. Set in 1990s, in a village in Kerala called Kurukkanmoola, Minnal Murali’s (Tovino Thomas) story begins on the night of a rare celestial event when tailor Jaison gets hit by lightning. Why does Jaison go by the pseudonym ‘Minnal Murali’? We get a moving back-story to that too.

From the lightning accident, to Jaison exploring his new super-powers with his adorable nephew Josemon, to finally embracing his new identity, it’s all amusing. The writers pepper the script with a lot of humor and clever little juxtapositions. For example, there’s a scene where a kid dressed as Mahatma Gandhi encourages the hero to beat up cops. In-fact the first face-off between MM and men in khakhi was brilliantly done, it feels like the scenes jumped out of the panels of a desi comic-book, with a peppy soundtrack “thee minnal” playing at the back. Spread over a ambitious 2 hours 39 minutes runtime, the film has a solid entertaining first two hours. It’s only in the last-half hour that I finally found my interest wavering.

From a self-centered selfish brat to a selfless savior, Jaison’s character sees an interesting growth. Tovino Thomas pulls off all shades of Jaison’s moods with ease. We see him as a flirty college oaf; a fashion-conscious tailor who thinks Adidas is a fake rip-off of a brand called ‘Abibas’; a vengeful ex; an emotional son; a selfish ambitious lout and finally as someone who thinks about the greater good of his hometown. But Jaison’s rise to glory is almost scuttled by the antagonist Shibu, played by actor Guru Somasundaram, who overshadows Tovin Thomas with his multi-faceted role. He reminds one of ‘Two-Face’, the villain from the Batman comics, with contrasting emotions simmering within, like Jekyll and Hyde.

Actor Femina George is the unsung hero in the movie, she plays Karate teacher Biji, who is heartbroken after her boyfriend marries somebody else, because she wasn’t willing to give up her self-defense classes. She is strong, independent, doesn’t mop around and is feisty enough to attend her ex’s wedding to feast on free biryani. My favorite however is child actor Vasisht Umesh who plays Josemon, Jaison’s nerdy bespectacled nephew, who explains his clueless uncle how superheroes roll.

While the overall tone of the film is refreshingly Indian, Basil Joseph and team have taken notes from some comic-book greats. Jason’s exploration of his powers with his tiny nephew was a lot like how Billy Batson tries to figure out his strengths in the 2019 DC film ‘Shazam’. Then there’s a bus scene that seems inspired from both Spiderman 2 and Shazam. There’s a very Magneto Vs Professor Xavier kind of fight in the end, which could’ve been better, but the action has some clean executed moves that look very cool and superman-like. All of this is accomplished with minimal VFX and a budget that doesn’t run into pages.

From the hero’s motivations, to the villain’s angst, ‘Minnal Murali’ covers it all, perhaps even stretches more than necessary into the antagonist’s life. And Guru Somasundaram is so good in his part, that you almost hope he has an happy ending, despite all his evil deeds. The climax has a story-book like ending, and leaves ample scope for sequels. It seems like India has finally found a desi super-hero whose antics have high re-watch value.

It’s a 8/10 from me. Available to stream on Netflix.

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