Maheshinte Prathikaaram – the extremity of realism

I don’t exactly make new year resolutions but the one to be binging on Malayalam movies in 2021 was made under the much welcome recommendations of a student who has breathed down my neck about it. I’ve watched just one Malayalam movie so far and that is Kumbalangi Nights, criticising which I managed to win an award by the Federation of Film Critics in India. Quite obviously, Malayalam movies are worth forgoing my Netflix obsession and switching to the more meaningful and ingenious techniques of movie making that have set the industry a class apart from the rest. So, I’m creating a whole new section on the blog to be writing about all the recommended Malayalam movies I’ll be sitting through this year.

The first of the series is Maheshinte Prathikaaram. Let’s address the elephant in the room and put the point across already that Fahad Fasil is a phenomenon that we have time and again fallen in love with. The man has made his way to the list of the best, most talented actors the country has ever seen and this movie of his is no exception to the fantastic form he’s been in for years now. All due credits the man deserves given; coming to everything else about this movie.

The movie begins with one of the most beautiful songs in terms of lyrics I have come across, one describing the village of Idukki where the story takes place. It’s an unconventional story but one that holds an unprecedentedly real mirror to the lifestyle of Kerala. This movie is as real as an artistic rendition can possibly get in terms of backdrops, settings, locations, costumes, makeup, lights, dialogues and acting. The story too is claimed to be based on a true incident and if it is so, bless the real life protagonist for living out a whole movie. I do not know if there is a term for it, but Maheshinte Prathikaaram is a dramatic story narrated on a very real pedestal. The typical Malayali rural characters clad in lungis and rather unbecoming shirts are so entertaining, it’s surprising and familiar at the same time.

This movie, I would say, very much represents the ethos of Mollywood that gives so much attention to details, picks up a story that stands for itself and films it with the least possible budget and in the most real settings; it might as well be happening in your own neighbourhood. They don’t romanticise middle class lifestyle, nor do they make blatant attempts at overly beautifying what’s not. The ability to convert realism into art that appeals to all kinds of audiences is what sets the industry apart and it is surprising to me every time. How is it that the very idea of art, which apparently is to glorify and symbolize reality in appealing forms, is forgone so comfortably by these film makers and are successful in it? How has realism become the foundation of art in Mollywood? What social, educational or artistic conditioning/foundations enable these film makers to incorporate symbolism in little things like freeing a dog, personifying an entire village to be a girl, or encompassing the excellence in photography in the image of a bat? What makes them believe they can bring a character that meddles in a fight, not a lead one, a full circle in terms of personality growth with strikingly little time and on-screen developments?

I hope to answer these questions in the coming months with a long list of Malayalam movies piled up. It is simply undeniable that there must be some social or real-time influence on Malayalam film makers that sets them apart from the rest in the country. What it is and how they have capitalized it in not just commercial but intellectual forms, I intend to learn.

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