Review: You Don't Know You Needed To Watch 'Malikappuram'. . . Until You See It

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Jan 5, 2023 06:15 PM +05:30 IST
Review: You Don't Know You Needed To Watch 'Malikappuram'. . . Until You See ItMalikappuram movie review
Snapshot
  • At a time when Hindu culture is becoming increasingly invisible in Malayalam cinema, this film is a reminder and celebration of a child's bond with Ayyappa Swami.

How are our Gods and Goddesses different from the super heroes we meet in comic books and in superhero films?

The answer is that our relationship with our Gods is at once protective emotionally as well as deeply transcendental.

'Superman' can be great entertainment and can even impart values derived from American collective consciousness. But he does not have the capacity to grow with a child, inside the being of the child and then guide him through values that are not society-derived but are primordial and eternal.

Only a Hanuman can do that. Because Hanuman inhabits a spiritual and civilisational universe, while Superman is an inhabitant of a fictional and a commercial world.

For a Hindu child, the Deity is super hero and beyond. That is a dimension that has not been explored so far – the bond that develops between a child and a Hindu Deity.

Malikkapuram, written by Abhilash Pillai and directed by Vishnu Sasi Sankar, explores exactly that dimension. In this case, the bonding is between an eight-years-old girl, Kalyani (Deva Nandha) and Ayyappa Swami.

Ayyappan, by all accounts, seems to be a historical yogic-warrior who resonated so deeply with Sastha that he became embodied in that transcendental and all-encompassing Advaitic truth of ‘Tat Tvam Asi’.

The movie starts with a short but effective acknowledgement of the historical roots of Ayyappan.

The girl has two strong bonds in her life– one this-worldly and the other, the transcendental. The two bonds of love intertwine beautifully in the story. But outside, the world is filled with loan sharks and child traffickers.

A traumatic incident occurs and her bond with Ayyappan turns into Bhakti. The child is shown as gifted with regards to her drawing skills, which in turn bring out images from her deep self: that of a superhero who transforms into Ayyappa Swami.

Unni Mukundan plays his role marvellously. Combining masculine fierceness with parental grace that can charm a child is not easy.

The fight scenes are well choreographed and have a charm rarely seen.

Qualitatively different, both in style and context, from the Kantara climax, the climax of Manikappuram exhibits a deeper connectivity.

The movie also shows a granny – Muthaachi as they call her in Malayalam. The Grandma element is slowly disappearing from both our family and popular culture. Her importance can never be overemphasised.

This movie shows what we are slowly losing even without being aware of it - the lap of a grandmother where we rest our heads as she tells us stories from the Puranas. Unfortunately, television serials have transformed the grandmother who enjoys Vanaprastha in home itself into a grumpy mother-in-law.

This movie shows a glimpse of that grandmother who is the primal root of culture and spirituality in a household.

With extraordinary acting, if it can be called that, the girl brings out what Bhakti is to the audience and not a single pair of eyes among the audience was without the mist of tears swelling up. The girl became Bhakti-Bhava itself.

The mischievous boy who gets himself drawn into the sacred pilgrimage because of his assumed responsibility for the girl has also transformed into the very character.

The storyline contrasts two worlds in the movie. One is the world made of all good-hearted people with an ambience of a divine culture that animates it. Then, simultaneously, there exists a cruel world that is made of arrogance, greed and sadism.

These worlds cross each other, resulting in suffering. At the centre of this clash of worlds, the movie places the tender Bhakti of Kalyani for Swami Ayyappan.

The movie is a visual treat as well. The music is soothing, and flows with the story.

In the fight scenes, and even otherwise, the girl projects onto a mysterious character all the attributes that she associates with Ayyapa Swami. In that luminal dimension between the supernatural and the natural, the Bhakti of the girl leaves an indelible mark on reality for all concerned.

This is a 'family entertainment' movie, a feel-good film and a movie that fills a void in us. If you miss it then you are missing the beginning of a phenomenon.

II

Kerala for quite sometime has been de-Hinduising itself in its movies. It has been a very worrisome development for the observers of Kerala cinema. The actors themselves may be Hindus but the characters and story of many a Malayalam film would not contain a single Hindu character.

It is at such a time that a film like this explodes onto the Malayali popular culture, bringing out strong images of the collective unconscious of Kerala that has always been Hindu.

Often, the Western and Westernised observers of Hindu society have written critically about ‘masculine’ Hinduism. Hindu Gods have suddenly become aggressive, muscular etc. This movie shows the muscular Hindu Deities – Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha, and then, shows the Bhakti of the child in comfortable juxtaposition.

To the eight-year-old girl, the armed and muscular Hindu Deities are protectors. This is the living Hindu experience.

The movie also highlights Petta thulal – a ritual dance Ayyappan pilgrims enact. It is 'tribal'. All pilgrims are spiritually Ayyappan – the same Brahman and all pilgrims become tribal.

All social differences and superficial cultural differences are obliterated. There is no 'sanskritisation' or de-sanskritisation here. All cultural components unite in the grand dance of unity in diversity.

The reviewer remembers one of the earliest Ayyappan movies that became a cult classic across the languages – ‘Swami Aiyyappan’ (1975). The movie’s special effects were a dud even for 1970s standards of even Tamil cinema. Yet it became a cult classic.

Its songs became quite famous and they reverberate even today during ‘Kattu’ or the start and continuation of the sacred fasting for the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

Tamil Version of Title Song: Swami Ayyappan

The title song is a classic and it incorporated in it that grand statement of the Advaitic seer from Kerala– Sri Narayana Guru: Oru Jaathi Oru Matham Oru Deivam – One our Jaathi, one is our religion and one is our divine supreme.

Malayalam original Title song: Swami Ayyappan (1975)

That one is not a personal God. This movie points out. That is what every pilgrim who crosses the eighteen steps sees – along with Ayyappa – ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ .

That Mahavakya now gets highlighted in this movie.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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