Malayankunju is a coming-of-age survival drama that has its heart in the right place, notes Divya Nair.
After Take Off, CU Soon and Malik, Fahadh Faasil and Mahesh Narayan team up to bring Malayankunju, a distinct Malayalam language thriller centred around a landslide.
Anil Kumar aka Anikuttan (Fahadh) is an electrician with an ill temper, who lives with his mother Shantamma in Idukki, Kerala, where landslides are common in the monsoon and villagers are often relocated to government relief camps as a preventive measure.
Right from the first scene when Anil picks up a fight with one of his elderly workers, we are introduced to Anikuttan's world of control in which there is no mercy for a crying baby or a barking dog in the neighbourhood.
Every day, he sleeps around 10.25 pm after and wakes up at 3.30 am, takes a quick bath, offers his prayers and begins work in his bedroom filled with televisions, laptops and electronic gadgets some of which, he believes require a 'keen eye and focus' to be fixed.
One day when the neighbour's crying child disrupts his work, he chooses to play devotional songs to annoy and retaliate but ends up at the police station following a complaint by the neighbour.
At the police station, he Is bailed out by his uncle Surendran (Indrans).
Turns out, Ani's unusual temper and meltdown is a consequence of his inability to grieve his father's (Jaffar Idukki) unexpected suicide.
His sister had also chosen to run away with a 'backward caste' boy a night before her wedding day -- an incident that turned their world upside down in a moment.
Days later, the same Anikuttan volunteers to help the neighbour fix a light during a power cut but walks off angrily when he notices that his mother has gifted the child a gold bangle he'd saved up for his sister's child with whom he hasn't reconciled yet.
The story is craftily narrated in three parts -- the events before, during and post landslide -- and takes us on an emotional journey of a young man who has to navigate his grief, anxiety and other bottled-up feelings to rescue himself and those who may be trapped several feet below the ground in the landslide.
The beauty of the narrative lies in the writer's simple idea -- the same voice that once annoyed Anikuttan becomes his guiding light and also his life's purpose.
In terms of visuals, the devil is in the details.
Post landslide, as Anikuttan navigates through layers of slippery mud, rocks and tree roots to trek to the surface, a simple torchlight captures the specifics of the surroundings.
A R Rahman's background score is yet another beautiful reminder that when words fail, let the music take over.
Even when Anikuttan is all riled up, the music that follows has a soothing, healing impact on your senses.
Written by Mahesh Narayanan and directed by debutant Sajimon, Malayankunju is a mature, well-made film that speaks through its characters and touches upon a host of socially relevant issues -- from the plight of rubber plantation workers to the cause and effect of deforestation, the inability to accept a certain community and the general disregard to seek professional help to tackle grief and trauma.
A few months ago, Puzhu dealt with a similar premise of a brother, who is unable to come to terms with his sister choosing to marrying a boy from a different caste and expresses his displeasure through contempt and rage.
But where Malayankunju triumphs is in the integrity and ease of FaFa's portrayal of Anikuttan, with layered expressions and emotions.
Anikuttan is distinct, but not alien. He is one of us but you cannot manipulate him without reason.
The scene where Anikuttan is rescued by his dead father and guided to the path of redemption as he shares important nuggets of wisdom is not to be missed.
So is the scene where Jaffer Idukki offers to speak to the groom's parents minutes after his daughter has run away from home and filed a police complaint against him.
Even in their limited scenes, Jaffar Idukki and Jaya S Kurupshine well in their roles as parents.
Malayankunju is a coming-of-age survival drama that shows you just enough to satisfy its intended perspective and yet has its heart in the right place.
Malayankunju streams on Amazon Prime Video.