Review: Minnal Murali Is A Indian Superhero Origin Story Devoid Of Any Western Influence
From Netflix’s long standing foray into international content, comes a brand new Indian movie that’s all the rage. Minnal Murali on Netflix is one of very few Indian superhero movies. But even more surprisingly, one that’s actually a little revolutionary given the oversaturation of superhero content worldwide. The movie goes beyond the traditional superhero origin story to create a compelling story that focuses as much on the villain as it does on the hero. But more importantly, adds a new layer to the genre given its unique setting and the movie’s country of origin. So take a look at my Minnal Murali review.
Indian Superhero Movies Before Minnal Murali
Image via Netflix.
The superhero genre of movies in India is not the greatest. While it’s a genre the industry always dabbled with since the early 80s’, it’s not as successful as it is in Hollywood. The newer iterations of the genre came with Krrish in 2006, a sequel to an unofficial adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. in. The movie saw one of Bollywood biggest stars in a movie that stapled together elements of Hollywood superhero tropes into a financially successful franchise that spawned another sequel.
Afterwards, many others tried but didn’t really hit the box office success of the Krrish movies. Critically, however, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero in 2018 deconstructed the genre with a street-level hero born out of the corruption of a city. Joshi was an amalgamation of the vengeful Batman and the street-level Daredevil, and genuinely added to the discourse when it came to Indian superhero movies. But that fact Joshi had elements derived from Hollywood media, is why this new Netflix original movie truly stands out. This Minnal Murali review will focus more on how the new Malayalam language film adds so much more to that genre. And not just from an Indian movie perspective, but to the impact of the superhero genre overall.
Some Disclaimers About Bollywood And The Indian Film Industry
Image via Netflix.
Before I go any further, since this is my first Comic Years’ piece about an Indian movie, I want to clarify some things. India is a country with many different regions all featuring their own separate cultures, languages and traditions. Not to mention, their own film industries. Internationally, we misuse the term ‘Bollywood’ to generalize all movies made in India. When in reality, ‘Bollywood’ actually specifies only movies made in the Hindi language industry. Bollywood movies are mostly coming out of the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), which is similar to America’s Los Angeles. In terms of where the country’s mainstream film industry is.
However, India has many other entertainment industries with movies and shows made in the various languages of India. Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Malayali and many more are but a few of the regional industries of India. Minnal Murali on Netflix comes from the Malayalam industry and not Bollywood. So, through this review of Minnal Murali, I’ll be referring to the film as being part of the Indian film industry, referring to its inclusion amongst all the industries of India. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Our Minnal Murali Review Is Not Entirely Spoiler-Free, But Gives Very Little Away
Image via Netflix.
The premise of Minnal Murali is pretty traditional. Two characters in a fictional Indian village are struck by lightning, granting them mysterious powers. The first is Jaison Varghese (Tovino Thomas), a self-proclaimed Casanova of the village, with aspirations of moving to America. The son of the local tailor, Jaison thinks himself a cool guy but falls apart when his girlfriend leaves him for someone else. On the other side, we’ve got Shibu, (Guru Somasundaram), a kind of kooky and eccentric guy who works in the local tea shop. Shibu is a little out of sorts and generally known as the village idiot. The return of his former flame to the village gives Shibu hope and a new found sense of purpose. But when they’re both struck by lightning, their lives take a dramatic turn, taking them down the opposite ends of the hero-villain spectrum.
The genius behind Minnal Murali is how director Basil Joseph takes his time to tell the story. The movie really lets us sit with the characters and their everyday lives before we go down the traditional superhero route. Their dreams, hopes, ambitions, as well as their regrets, missed chances and sadness. It’s a slow burn movie, and quite long, but the time goes towards establishing each character and where their stories eventually go. It absolutely veers away from the traditional superhero formula of how things are supposed to happen.
How Western Media Influences the Concept of Superheroes
Image via Netflix.
While trying to review Minnal Murali, I wanted to focus on its setting. It’s what really separates this movie from many others in the same genre, internationally. The story is set in a small Indian village. This means that the majority of the inhabitants are seemingly unaware of the idea of superheroes. Except for a few of the village’s kids, the concept of mask-wearing heroes with superpowers saving the world isn’t a generally-accepted thing. So, when someone similarly gets powers in this world, their reactions are quite different than what we’re used to.
Of course, there’s the incredible, discover-your-powers and training montages which are hilarious and a lot of fun to watch. But it’s more the reaction that society has when faced with the idea of a man with inhuman powers who can destroy buildings. Which in Minnal Murali, is that of fear and suspicion. And it makes sense. Shows like The Boys and Jupiter’s Legacy deconstruct the real-world idea of superheroes that is embedded within our culture, and people’s ability to go from awe to fear in record time. But Minnal Murali introduces the concept in a smaller setting and examines how such a society would react.
It’s interesting to think, as you begin to realize how much comics and other media glorify the idea of powerful heroes. Getting powers is a good thing. In Western stories, discovering the hero’s powers is ultimately a joyous and celebratory event. For those of us steeped in comic book culture, the natural progression is to become a hero. Without those influences, the concept is downright scary. Ultimately, this story does blend with the general mythic and literary theme that what makes a hero is not their strength or abilities, but rather how they use it to help others.
Minnal Murali Has One of the Best Supervillain Origin Stories, Period.
Image via Netflix.
The story of Jaison and his origin is, of course, a mainstay of Minnal Murali. He is the titular hero, after all. But the story of the villain, Shibu, is so much more compelling. It’s a moving story of love, loss, tragedy and the dark path that genuinely creates a villain. Jaison’s motivations to become a hero take some time to develop. His nephew has to school him on superheroes in America, which further motives his wishes to go there. But it’s only after finding out his own backstory, that he chooses that path.
Whereas Shibu’s story is just heartachingly sad. Somasundaram is an actor who has put himself on my radar with this performance. How he transforms from a non-descript character in the first few scenes to a sweet man, and then a tragic romantic, ultimately devolving into a bad guy with nothing to lose— is stunning to watch. Honestly, it’s mesmerizing and gut wrenching.
Minnal Murali On Netflix Is One of the Best Indian Superhero Movies Ever
I can’t end this Minnal Murali review without talking about the music of the movie. Every superhero movie has to have an iconic score and soundtrack. And Minnal Murali on Netflix does not disappoint. The exhilarating musical peaks absolutely cue the heroic journey that Jaison eventually embarks on. The songs underscore Shibu’s lost love, his redemption and his eventual downfall in the movie’s most rollercoaster of emotional story arcs. The movie almost hits the all the familiar beats of a Marvel Studios movie; hilarious, sweet, heartfelt, tragic, action-packed and just enjoyable from every angle.
Minnal Murali adds to the discourse of superhero movies, not just in India, but worldwide. I highly recommend the movie to anyone with an interest in the genre or just a fun movie in general. Oh, and having the hero be the son of a tailor is just a stroke of brilliant writing. So, when he eventually puts on his awesome costume in the climax, the origin of how he got it just writes itself.
Minnal Murali on Netflix is currently streaming worldwide, available with English dubs and subtitles.
Let us know your thoughts on this Indian superhero movie in the comments below.
Featured image via Netflix.
Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.