Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Release date:
January 18, 2019
Haneef Adeni

Nivin Pauly, Unni Mukundan, J.D.Chakravarthy, Manjima Mohan, Siddique, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Kalabhavan Shajon, Shanthi Krishna, Sudev Nair

It is not particularly a compliment to describe a film as better than The Great Father. Yet that is the nicest, most reassuring thing I can say about this new Malayalam film by the man who gave us that horrendous Mammootty starrer about child rape in 2017. Haneef Adeni, who made his directorial debut with The Great Father and followed that up with writing the comparatively tolerable Abrahaminte Santhathikal (2018), is the writer-director of Mikhael: Guardian Angel, which stars Nivin Pauly as a doctor estranged from his mother but fond of his little sister. When the girl encounters a pest in school and stands up for herself, events take a tragic turn.

There is bound to be a tale worth telling in the journey of an individual who at first lives by Jesus Christ’s dictum “when a man strikes you on one cheek turn the other cheek” but later mines the Jesus who lost his temper in a temple over the commercialisation of religion. And if you sift the grain from the chaff, the core plot from the pretentions to grandeur, there really is a halfway decent story somewhere in the maze that is Mikhael. But Adeni being Adeni, he wraps it in an over-ambitious, pompous package with hollow references to Christian mythology (in particular, Archangel Michael) combined with an overbearing, wannabe-cool soundtrack.

The irritating music and pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo overshadow both the storyline and the usually reliable Nivin Pauly’s natural charm. To make matters worse, Pauly’s expanding girth is distracting in the fight scenes. The actor had somehow managed to be convincing while playing a rustic bandit recently in Kayamkulam Kochunni, but here in Mikhael it is hard to digest passages in which his character wallops and overpowers various men, including the trim, evidently fit Unni Mukundan especially since the latter’s well-muscled frame is put on display throughout the film.

Mukundan, who is more a muscular mannequin than an actor here, offers one of the few pleasures of watching Mikhael, when he bares his body at different points in the film. In case that sounds like a criticism, let me be clear: it is not. (Cue: laughter track playing in the background.) Glamour industries across the world tend to objectify women incessantly and in a degrading fashion (unlike the manner in which they objectify men), so it always comes as a relief and a pleasant change when a film puts the shoe on the other foot and focuses its gaze entirely on the male physique (it goes without saying that men are rarely demeaned in such visuals).

In this over-stylised, self-conscious crime thriller, I am certainly not complaining about Mukundan’s character Marco aiming, for instance, to intimidate an adversary by randomly deciding to bathe in the man’s bathroom in boxers and exiting the house while still in those boxers, offering us a full view of his nearly nude body. Giggle, giggle. I swear I am not kidding, this is an accurate description of the scene, and far from objecting, I insist instead that it had a profound meaning, as profound as Marco’s constant talk about potty – and I say this with the same conviction with which a very dear gentleman friend from my teenage years once told me that Baywatch “has a great plot”.

Mukundan’s posing about is one with the rest of the goings-on in Mikhael including all those slow motion fisticuffs, and wise-sounding conversations conducted between men in a low, wise-sounding tone. The pace of the film greatly hampers it since even the occasional interesting reveal is vastly diluted by the time it takes in coming. The final twist is not bad at all, but accompanied as it is by more posing and musical hollering, its impact is lost.

While much of what goes on must be blamed on Adeni’s “see what a clever dude I am, c’mon applaud me” style of writing and direction, Pauly too cannot but be faulted for not pulling off the intended twisted facet of his character. To be fair to him though, he is not insufferable and offensive in the way Mammootty was as he preened like a peacock through the story of a serial child rapist in The Great Father. And to be fair to Adeni, although he carries forward his man-as-ultimate-protector-of-the-family theme here too, unlike the women of The Great Father who were almost irrelevant to the action, the hero’s sister in Mikhael is not only essential to the proceedings, she actually has some agency.

That said, as mentioned at the start of this review, to say that a film is better than The Great Father is hardly a compliment. I wonder why Pauly could not foresee how Mikhael would turn out after watching Adeni’s earlier works and reading this script? Did even the puns and philosophising around faeces spouted by Marco not give him pause? The instincts that led the star to sign up for the likes of Action Hero Biju and Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela have clearly betrayed him here.

Rating (out of five stars): 3/4

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
150 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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