We skipped Helicopter Eela and saw this instead, and it was such a good decision! I recommend you do the same.
This is my 4th Malayalam historical adventure movie, so I was ready for a deep dive into historical theory and a depressing ending. Like, for instance, Kammara Sambhavam. Or Urumi, which has moments of excitement and adventure, but ultimately is way too rapey and generally cynical to be the adventure film of my dreams.
But this movie, it has everything! Naive hero hardened by circumstances, two separate noble mentors, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, evil mustache twirling villains who get their come-uppance, a bandit hide out in a forest, everything!!! And it doesn’t hold back.
I hate it when films hold back! When they feel like they have to be dignified and serious and all of that. Or when the actors have that look in their eyes which says “I am doing these silly things but you know and I know that I am better than this”. Next as bad is when they go to far, when they have that look of “We are having so much fun recreating our childhood fantasies that we forgot it has to actually be fun for an audience too”. This movie is the perfect balance, everyone director to actors is throwing themselves into things without holding back, but they are still making something that is deep and interesting and fun for the audience as well.
My only regret is that I don’t know enough of the original legend to really appreciate the film. I am sure there were references to well known stories, moments in his life. And all I got was “wow! That was a cool thing he did!” But then, I also got to be surprised by all the stories instead of know what was going to happen.
Part of the reason I enjoyed this film so much is that the underlying history is simple and fun but also rock solid in terms of theory. This isn’t your simple “British are bad because they are bad, Indian culture is perfect” version of history. This is the “Brahmins are corrupt, kings are blind, the British take advantage and exacerbate all the problems that are already there, and the only solution is to break through the whole corrupt system and reject it”. Oh, and there’s also a decent amount of consideration of the role gender plays in this, the film doesn’t look away from the way the caste system allows for sexual abuse over uppercaste men towards lowercaste woman. So much better than the usual superficial version of history that has good guys and bad guys and no woman involved at all.
Nivin isn’t the usual superficial hero either. Mohanlal is, although we all kind of knew that, he is just there for a short cameo and to be the perfect fun wise mentor. But Nivin is a little more. He is a young man who cares about people but is also not above telling stories to make himself look good. And that doesn’t go away, even after he becomes a “hero”. He still has a sense of humor, moments of doubt, joy in the world, all of it. All without losing the essential good at the core of him, he isn’t a hero with shades of grey, just one who is a little human.
In the same way the villains don’t have shades of grey, they are straight up bad people. But in a variety of ways, some of them explicit and horrible, some of them who do good things so long as it doesn’t put them too much out of their way, some of them who try to justify what they do with consideration of the greater good, some who don’t even bother. It makes the vision of history, and the overall narrative of the film, that much more layered and enjoyable.
This is a good old-fashioned adventure movie, and it’s also just a GOOD movie! It’s not good because we know the story (I don’t, and I still enjoyed it), it’s not good because of sentimental attachment to the genre, it’s not good because it has a patriotic message, it’s just plain good. Well written, well made, fun performances, and a rousing story. With just enough twists to keep you guessing, but I will get into those in my SPOILER review.