Some say it is islamophobic and attempts to whitewash the director's mālik (bosses). Some laud it as a brilliant work of art for the performances and the seamless stitching of the story. For a few others, the whole idea of Malayalam movies discussing anything outside the savarna space has always been odd; let's ignore them for now.
The movie has a lengthy runtime, narrating events from three perspectives across different periods. It makes no claims of being biographical or representing real-life events. The director has reiterated in interviews and discussions that the movie is entirely fictional and has no semblance to actual events. But the film makes it clear that is not the case. Certain factors such as the name (Ramadapally) and location of the place, the foreign goods market, etc., directly indicate what it is hinting to—Beemapally and the police firing. At least some might still remember seeing a similar scene on television of the police disposing of the body of a boy at the beach. It is impossible for anyone watching the movie to miss the connections. Such obvious references are never an accident. The director is right in a way when he says it is fictional. It is a subtle invitation for the audience to find out the actual story; the movie opens the door for further debates.
Unfortunately, Mahesh Narayanan has already been labelled by some for islamophobia in one of his films. It makes him and his film Mālik a convenient target to be tagged Islamophobic. But I wonder how such a label would suit this movie. It brings a case of organised crime once again into the spotlight. It attempts to draw the public memory to a long-forgotten event that led to the death of six people, all belonging to the same community. By definition, islamophobic content should approach Muslims and Islam with prejudiced hate or fear, which doesn't seem to be the case here. What could be the position of a film that opens a front for discussion on state violence against a community? The prevailing commonsense prefers to see such events as not very surprising when victims come from specific communities or castes. It is quickly forgotten and swept under the carpet. Why would a filmmaker, had he been islamophobic, revive the memory of it? One could argue that he would if the motives were to whitewash the perpetrators of the violence by a convenient blame-shifting, right? Well, I choose to think of it in another way.
The movie closes with one of the lead characters, having learnt the backstory of Ahammadali Sulaiman and Ramadapally from three narrators (much like us, the audience), identifying the actual perpetrators. He hurls a stone that falls right on the forehead of the minister. Would it be wrong to say that the minister represents the state, the police, and those at the helm of the political executive?
Veluppikkan thechathu pandayi (a whitewashing attempt that ended up as a stain) is a comment that you would see in every social media thread discussing the movie. Not calling out explicitly those responsible for the incident and subtle blameshifting on to other political outfits by misrepresenting elements such as the party colour, name, symbol, etc., is one criticism that the film invites. Would it be wrong to say that the movie constructs P. A. Aboobacker's character in a way that generates interest in the audience to find out more about who he could be? The popular narrative fed to the people through the media holds the police alone responsible. This comes at the end and stands out from the rest of the movie. The actual film closes with the stone hitting the minister as Roseline watches. How much more direct can a movie be while dealing with a topic that might trigger a political stir. It seems as if the film whispers seek, and ye shall find.
Having given so many hints, would the filmmakers be so naive to assume that the audience watching the movie for over two and a half hours would walk away without having a quick lookup of the incident at least? Would they have presumed that rekindling a forgotten memory and tweaking with the colour of the flag would help whitewash somebody? Would they have assumed that this part would go undiscussed and unnoticed? Is it not the dumbest possible way to do it, had it been an attempt to whitewash? Does it not make much more sense to say that the movie is a bold attempt to reopen the issue for further debates and appeals for justice?
Mālik depicts the politics of hate that pitches communities against each other. It speaks against the business and power elites befooling the toiling masses and aiding land grab for quick bucks. We cannot dismiss the movie as a misrepresentation merely for the flag colour of Aboobacker's party or his identity because when it comes to selling hate for money and power, the colour of the flag doesn't seem to matter. Mahesh Narayanan and the team deserves appreciation for their effort in crafting this piece.