Last evening, I attended a nearly sold-out showing of Malikappuram movie starring Unni Mukundan. A straightforward yet excellent and moving film. The film is more accurately described as a “family enlightener” than a “family entertainer.”
The movie is about the devotion of an eight-year-old girl named Kallu to Lord Ayyappa, nurtured by her grandmother’s tales, manifests in her dreams and reveals itself in her drawings in her school notebook. Even as she anticipates a Sabarimala pilgrimage with her devoted father, she suffers a terrible personal tragedy when he passes away. The grieving child still desires to see Ayyappan, so she travels to Sabarimala by bus with her schoolmate Piyush, a mischievous boy with assumed responsibility and childish bravado, unaware of the grave danger of being followed by a child trafficker goon. The remainder of the film depicts how the children are saved unharmed and bestowed with an intimate vision of Ayyappan.
The spiritual dimension is conveyed subtly, without resorting to ostentatious displays of hyperreligiosity, rituals, or Puja ceremonies. The bands of Ayyappa devotees and their chorus singing create the Bhakti atmosphere by themselves. While adhering to the tenets of Ayyappa devotion, the director depicts without reluctance the scene of a young daughter performing the last rites for her deceased father, which may cause some traditionalists to feel uneasy. I applaud the director. In the film, the meaning of Ayyappan’s “presence” in real life is revealed in two layers: first, in a manner that can be described as “magical realism,” and then, rationally, which is outstanding. The final line spoken by a police officer in the film Tatvamasi bridges the gap between these two layers. Tatvamasi (I am that), the great Mahavakya, is inscribed on the Sannidhanam (inner shrine) of Ayyappan, which is exclusive to Sabarimala because it is rarely seen in Hindu temples.
Those who have felt Ayyappa devotion and Sabari Yatra will find the second part of the film to be a highly emotionally charged experience. The moment the children in the movie reached Erumeli and placed the “Irumudi Kattu” on their heads, I felt uncontrollable tears welling up in my eyes.
When the “Harivarasanam” song began playing alongside the film’s ending credits, no audience member felt the urge to leave the theatre as is customary. The majority of the audience remained until the end of the song.
The film’s landscape and background contribute to its earthiness and realism. The Sabarimala hill range is visible in the distance from this small village in southern Kerala, where Kallu attends the government school and studies and speaks Malayalam instead of English. Small-town life in India, with its joys and sorrows and the harsh reality of life for a middle-class family, with loan sharks’ cruelty and public humiliation, is wonderfully portrayed in the movie and easily connects with the audience. And the sublime, pristine, and intense devotion of a child who flourishes in such a setting.
The director Vishnu Sasi Sankar and scriptwriter Abhilash Pillai have presented this taut and engrossing tale with all the delicacy and sensitivity it requires. In addition to the others, Deva Nantha (Kallu), Unni Mukundan (Ayyappan), and Sreepath (Piyush) give outstanding performances. Visuals and cinematography are natural and unforced, without excess. The soundtrack complements the film’s entirety in a seamless manner. Many were thanked at the beginning, including Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, RSS chief Mohan Bhagavat, Tantris (priests) of Sabarimala, and Kerala Police. Clearly, the filmmakers intended for the film to be free of politics and controversy by showing the spirit of harmony and equilibrium is truly admirable.