Released on Netflix, director and actor Basil Joseph’s ‘Minnal Murali’ starring Tovino Thomas had a compelling plot that encompassed all that Indian cinema lovers want to see on screen.
We have all seen Indian superhero films. But nothing like the recent Malayalam superhero film called ‘Minnal Murali’ which is making waves globally. Released on Netflix, director and actor Basil Joseph’s ‘Minnal Murali’ starring Tovino Thomas had a compelling plot that encompassed all that Indian cinema lovers want to see on screen – love, action, drama, sentiment. And the result is a movie that saw lightening success with accolades pouring in from a pan-Indian audience, filmmakers, celebrities, and film critics. Director Basil Joseph can’t stop smiling as he speaks to TSG about the movie.
Set in Kurukkanmoola in Kerala, ‘Minnal Murali’ revolves around Jaison (Tovino Thomas) and Shibu (Guru Somasundaram). Struck by lightning, both Jaison and Shibu develop powers and how the protagonist and antagonist use these powers forms the crux of the story. Given the success it has had, would the ‘Minnal Murali’ team have been happier had the film seen a theatrical release? “There are two sides to this. The movie was thought of and made for a theatrical release. It was meant for kids, youngsters and families to come and watch on the big screen. Unfortunately, Covid changed our plans. OTT became a much better option and I believe it happened for a reason. We have a good foundation now for any sequel to ‘Minnal Murali’ thanks to a global OTT release on Netflix. Netlix has marketed the film really well and this helped us a lot. If we had distributed and marketed the film ourselves, it would have been good but not on this scale for sure. We are happy that Netflix released it.”
For both Malayalam star Tovino Thomas and director Basil Joseph, ‘Minnal Murali’ is the biggest film (in terms of budget as well) in their respective careers. “Initially, we just had the idea of doing a superhero film and I was confident I could pull it off but not sure of how it would be on screen. I knew it was risky to make a superhero film from an industry like ours with all the experiments coming in the superhero genre from all over the world. So there’s nothing new you can present to the audience in that genre. The only thing we could do is make a movie for the Kerala audience which is not used to the superhero genre and also ensure that superhero fans weren’t disappointed. So the movie needed to be rooted in a Kerala narrative with VFX and stunts that were good for the audience. Once we got into the villain track, we were able to pull it off as an emotional superhero film rather than a template superhero film. I think that was its unique appeal – it was an emotional drama where the superhero was the X factor,” smiles the 31-year-old director.
With nearly 40 films under his belt, Malayalam star Tovino Thomas is not a newbie to the world of films. In fact, the star and director have worked together in numerous films and it was during this time that their friendship bloomed and the idea of ‘Minnal Murali’ started to take shape. “When we used to meet in our free time, we used to discuss the script. It was Tovino’s idea that the same lightning should strike both the protagonist and antagonist. So he had his own inputs and his improvisations with the humour added a lot to the film,” reveals the director. “Tovino is a very aware and sensible person. He knew he was sharing equal space with the villain but he wasn’t egoistic at all. He knew that Guru Somasundaram would be a show stealer in this film but superhero ‘Minnal Murali’ would be there forever.”
Actor Guru Somasundaram who plays the antagonist (Shibu) in the film was definitely a show stealer who had the audience sympathize with him rather than hating him. “We didn’t want anyone predictable or typecast to play Shibu. We wanted the character to grow and evolve in the film so we wanted someone who isn’t well-known in Kerala. People know Tovino but as they watch the film, they get to know who Guru Somasundaram is. If we had cast a known star, then the person’s off-screen image would have affected the audience’s perception of Shibu even before they saw the film. And we didn’t want that,” explains the director who was seen in ‘Kilometres and Kilometres’ as Kuttan.
All Hollywood superhero films come with a good-hearted hero, who saves the day, and an evil villain, who is out to destroy the world. In contrast, ‘Minnal Murali’s villain was more grey than black. Was this a conscious decision?
“For Marvel and DC films, the superhero genre is well-established and there is a template. For a setting like Kurukkanmoola and for the whole town to be in danger, we need to think about the Malayali audience and give them a credible plot. They are not used to the sci-fi genre so we need to convince them that this is a situation that has risen organically. We can’t force-fit a typical superhero template here and our instinct didn’t allow us to also. So we had a villain who grew organically from someone we empathise with who then becomes a monster and the hero has to turn superhero. At the end of the day, it’s all about society – it is society which makes someone into a villain and someone into a hero.”
Given that the director is also a well-known actor, didn’t he want to be part of his superhero film? “I’m actually there in a scene but only people who know me can recognise me,” he laughs. Was he inspired by Stan Lee? “I was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock actually – he used to be one of the passersby or a passenger. That was his naughtiness in the middle of a serious movie. I like such Easter eggs in the film and it gets the audience more excited,” he smiles.
Right now, the audience is eagerly looking forward to the sequel of ‘Minnal Murali’ and Basil Joseph says that it’s all in the planning stage. “We are not sure if that’ll be our next film; nothing has been confirmed but I do believe that there will be ‘Minnal Murali 2’.
Since people have loved ‘Minnal Murali’, why not a ‘Minnal Murali 2?” asks the happy director.