Filmmaker Mahesh Narayanan is on a roll. His latest film Malik, released last week, is creating waves. The brilliance of actors, theme and its treatment—all are being deciphered and analysed threadbare by cinephiles. There are many who criticise the movie for various reasons but everyone agrees on one thing—that Mahesh is a man with a brilliant cinematic language.
Malik is Mahesh's second movie release on an OTT platform after the much raved about C U Soon. His first movie Take Off, released in 2017, is considered as a game changer for Mollywood.
Mahesh talks to The WEEK about Malik, its politics, OTT platforms and a lot more.
Malik has kind of polarised the film viewing public. While there are some who are raving about the brilliance of the film, there are others who have found faults with the theme, the way it was treated and its politics. Did you expect this kind of a reaction?
To tell you the truth, I had expected even worse reactions. I firmly believe that once the movie is released, it belongs to the viewer. S/he has every right to view it from his or her perspectives. Every viewer has the right to criticise every movie. At the same time I also believe that no film can please everyone. Actually I am very happy that the film has created a discussion about an issue that every stakeholder had tried to cleverly sweep under the carpet.
You have been working on the story of Malik since 2011. What was it that got you hooked on to the story?
My house is near a coastal region and I am aware of the issues that every person in that belt experiences. The pace with which the topography of the coastal belt is changing will really shock anyone. I have seen many coastal spots disappearing due to the greed of a few. Like every other riot in the world, certain events depicted in the film were also for the control of the land. What happened there really affected me and I felt it was a story that needed to be told.
Malik has evoked quite a few political reactions. What is the film's politics?
That no riot happens by itself; there is somebody's greed behind every one of it - that is what I am saying through Malik. As the film’s last lines depict, a riot is fabricated as communal when the system wants to control the territory and its people. This finally becomes genocide and then we witness a mass departure of people from a certain sect - kind of an exodus.
Talking about my politics, I am a leftist and have been open about it. But what is funny is that I have been called all sorts of names from 'Sanghi' to a 'Jihadi'... (laughs).
You have been working on Malik since 2011. What caused this much delay?
Malik was a story that deserved a huge canvas and it required a huge investment. I could do Malik only because Take Off was a hit. Otherwise, investors would not be confident that I would be able to pull this off. The dictum that every director/actor is only as good as his last film is a reality in the film industry.
Your first movie Take Off and now Malik have been accused of Islamophobia.
I also have heard it many times... but am yet to understand the reasons behind the allegation. If those are based on criticising extremists or political Islam, then this only proves that our society is becoming more and more intolerant.
Your previous film C U Soon was meant to be an OTT release. But Malik was meant for theatrical release. How different would Malik have been if you knew it was getting released on an OTT platform.
Malik was conceived and executed as an out and out big screen movie. Everything about if from the scripting, dialogues, to planning of shots were meant for the big screen. So when one watches the film on a phone screen, many details would get missed out. That is the flip side of it. But on the other hand, Malik was seen and appreciated by many who otherwise would not have got a chance to see the movie if it had a theatrical release. If I were making Malik for OTT, I would have made it differently. Maybe it could have been a series.
How will you explain the difference between a theatrical release and an OTT release from a filmmaker's perspective?
The main difference is in writing. Both require totally different kinds of perspectives. In theatres, you get an audience who have come there with a purpose. They are completely dedicated to the movie. But when a film is released on OTT platforms, it is rare that one gets a completely dedicated audience. Most of them would be multitasking - some may be looking at phones in between or going to the kitchen...or doing something like that. So we need to make the OTT films in such a way that to grab the complete attention of the viewer. That requires a totally different skill set.
You are the only Malayalam film director who have had two successful OTT releases. How do you look at this medium?
OTT has kind of revolutionised film making and it has given umpteen opportunities to many new film makers. I am of the view that both theatrical releases and OTT platforms will go hand in hand.
Coming back to Malik, Godfather and Nayakan are two films that naturally come to your mind when you watch Malik... Were you afraid at any point of time that your film would be compared to those classics?
Those are cult films in that genre and I am open about the influences on me. In fact, I had discussed the theme with Kamal Haasan before making Malik. He was very excited. Apart from Nayakan and Godfather, many Malayalam movies too have influenced me in the making of Malik; for example, the movie Eenadu made in the 80s. While I accept these influences, I would say that Mailk is my interpretation of the theme. Malik is not just a story of a gangster; it is more about politics and resistance.
Many call you a 'complete filmmaker' because you write the script, you work with the camera, you direct and you edit. Is it a conscious decision?
Not really. I had actually applied to Adayar film Institute for Cinematography. But I got selected for an Editing Course. And I was already into writing. So all these finally got me into directing. I feel that getting involved in all these processes makes me more responsible for my film. If there is any flaw in my film, then I am completely responsible for that. I enjoy the entire process of filmmaking.