The Banyan Shades

Malikappuram – a review

Abhijit Suresh and Richa Thakur

The past year has seen the release of two movies, Malikappuram and Kantara, that based their plots on emphatically Indic themes of relationship between human and Divine. Both the movies explore the sublimity associated with rituals that is ingrained in the Indic consciousness. The gem of a movie, Malikappuram is reminiscent of the Swamy Ayappan series that most Malayali Hindu (and even non-hindu) families would religiously sit down to watch every evening during the early 2000s. The series contained a narration of the life of Bhagwaan Ayyapan, and, later, the stories of how he intervened on behalf of his devotees. The movie Malikappuram traces the journey of a young Ayappa Bhakta who is forced to come to terms with the drastic turn of events in her life. She has an ardent desire to visit Bhagwan Ayappan in Sabarimala, which is prevented by her father’s suicide. A man, whose identity is shrouded in mystery and whom she thinks to be Ayappan himself, guides her and her friend to the shrine. He later turns out to be a police officer entrusted with finding the missing kids, Kallu and Unni. The movie ends providing a rationalisation of the events unfolding during the course of the movie. This is different from how the climax of Kantara is handled. While both the movies neatly tie up loose ends of the plot, the same is done in subtly different ways. Both movies depict the dharmic idea of the divine using mortals as vehicles for divine intervention. However, the level of mysticism associated with the manner of doing so is where the movies diverge. While Kantara insists on the inherent mysticism of the tradition it represents on screen, Malikappuram perfectly balances rationalization of incidents and retention of mysticism. While the aura and magnanimity in the eyes of a young devotee of her ishta deva is retained, the audience is presented with a reasoning for the sequence of events. This plot intervention addresses the audience’s possible skepticism. Kantara successfully desists from doing this. The manifestation of the Guliga deyvam in every instance of the movie is shown without resorting to providing any modern scientific rationalisation for the same.

However, in both the movies it is the frames in which the magnanimity of the divine are unapologetically exhibited that one is enamoured and captivated the most. This phenomenon can also be observed in RRR. Twofold explanations are possible: the first is that audiences are fascinated by heroism. The second one is that the audiences want a film that shows a confident plot and message that is conveyed directly. For example, in Kantara, it is made evidently clear that Shiva’s body has been restored and taken over by Deva Gulligan, and the forest, indeed, is protected by the deity. The movie plays into the sensibilities that are unique to the Indian subcontinent without being apologetic about it. 

The handling of the idea of Ahimsa in both the movies is also very interesting. Ahimsa, as we know, is the absence of violence, categorically different from Gandhiji’s Non-violence, which is more pacifist than anything. Ahimsa thus entails all the measures necessary to maintain an environment bereft of Himsa. Ahimsa therefore, goes beyond simple self-defence to ensure that the balance of the universe (which innately is dharmic) is brought back. Where, once adharma is pushed back and dharma restablished, folded hands and a swamy sharanam salutation to the vanquished brings the pH level of the world to the dharmic neutral. This ensures that in this scheme of things objectivity is inherent to any action that brings dharmic balance and checks it from spilling over into vigilantism and vengeance.

In terms of representation of dharmic figures and themes, both the movies do justice to the stories in their own ways. Malikappuram addresses the logic of the devotees as well as the skeptics. The defining scene towards the end of the film was when Unni asks Kallu if the man who escorted them to Sabarimala was really Ayyappan. Kallu responds that he is her Ayyappan, which means that she recognises divinity in a human form. Kantara, on the other hand, gives primacy to the divine in its defining scene when Shiva (embodying Gulligan) disappears in the forest along with the embodiment of his father. The Indic themes are coming to fore with these bold and unapologetic plots.  We hope to see more such moving and original stories on screen in future. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *