You spend a good twenty minutes in horror in Malayankunju (Rebirth and Retribution) watching Fahadh Faasil in close up, as his Anikkuttan, trapped underneath a combination of landslide sludge, pieces of concrete and rods, and everyday household items—all now deadly weapons of swift mortal extinguishers—struggles to find a way out, to stay alive and see the light of the day. What’s led Anikkuttan up until here forms the core of this fascinating bildungsroman, with writer-cinematographer Mahesh Narayanan and director Sajimon Prabhakar creating a steadily building up of routine life in Idukki amidst the ominous, distant rumbling of clouds and portentous events.
Anikkuttan is forever on edge, unsmiling, and seemingly carrying a life’s burden of emotional explosives on his back. His mother, Shanthamma (Jaya S Kurup), who he lives with, manages the house and his complicated ways with as much elan as she flips out breakfast. With the arrival of tenants, the bilious appliance mechanic (who works from home—is there a connection between his behavior and chosen place of work, or do they feed into each other? Surely a topic of exploration for Faasil’s team of production friends) is handed a trigger to ratchet up his anger. The new arrivals belong to a community lower down in the ladder of a caste-iron structure. Plus, they have a baby named Ponni, whose choice of nocturnal activity is wailing with everything her lungs can exhale. This decibel invasion hiccups Anikuttan into tit-for-tat actions, none calming his inner turmoil.
As the movie unpeels the past, the rumblings of the weather in the present grow deeper, revealing how past actions lead to present and future incidents of calamity—at the emotional and physical layers. In flashes, you see a rare instance of Anikuttan smiling, a rejoicing brother to Sandhya (Rajisha Vijayan), until one night, everything crumbles, and the light boundaries of casteism dig deeper for him, cutting arterial veins of acceptance, replacing it with deep-rooted misophonia and boiling resentment.
Director Prabhakar swathes Malayankunju in the claustrophobic robes of a survival thriller, and with Narayanan’s stunning cinematographically set frames, Sree Sankar’s immersive sound design, and A.R. Rahman’s eerily operatic background score, throws you underground, into the morass and gloam of the womb of the earth, a troubling metaphor for life, death, and rebirth. Jaffar Idukki makes an effective appearance as Anikuttan’s father, while Indrans sails through (as usual) in his scenes. And in a movie that largely rests on his troubled façade, Fahadh Faasil delivers a masterclass act, his character’s moral and soul tightly wound by the twin coils of grief and trauma. The actor burns and simmers within, and you can feel his seething helplessness radiate across the screen.
But underneath the thrills and the unbearable sequence of the landslide aftermath, the movie frizzles on the stove of the allegory of nature: one that’s within us and one that’s nurtured life on this planet so far. When we behave in a direction opposite to our innate nature—all of us have, sometimes, and one way or the other—we feel the acid of resentment and anger burn inside us, draining us, peeling off our humane and kinder instincts. When humans go plundering with a compass that points us precisely opposite to where nature intended us to go, the oceans turn acidic, the glaciers melt, the lands slide, the clouds burst, and the water disappears from underneath the deepest potable soil layer. We’ll eventually be left with an unrecognizable place that’s stripped of any signs of life. Anikuttan may or may not find redemption post his trapped nightmare, but there’s at least hope that the nature within is changeable and in his gasping grasp. What of nature without? At what point do we go sink into hopelessness? The answers lie beyond Malayankunju’s disquieting frames.
Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Malayankunju is streaming on Prime Video and rated U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition) and has mildly disturbing sequences involving trapped underneath a landslide.