Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham is Priyadarshan's ambitious film on Kunjali Marakkar, a warrior who fought in the army of the Zamorin in 16th century Kozhikode and was instrumental in defending the coast from the Portuguese. The details about his life are sketchy, and this is something that the film acknowledges right at the beginning. What unfolds, therefore, isn't entirely an accurate rendering of history but a fictional account that takes inspiration from several other stories of war, betrayal, loyalty and grandeur.
To the team's credit, the visuals are stunning â€” from the dreamy song sequence between the young Kunjali (Pranav Mohanlal) and his bride (Kalyani Priyadarshan) to the stormy seas and bloodied battlefield. Pranav's close resemblance to Mohanlal, who plays the older Kunjali, makes the transition of the character smooth and believable. Young Kunjali is his mother's (Suhasini) darling son and she gives him a religious charm to protect him from danger. Even as Kunjali prepares for his wedding, there is trouble brewing around him with the Portuguese looking to make in-roads through trade.
There are a lot of characters on screen â€” the Zamorin (Nedumudi Venu), his military advisor (Harish Peeradi), the latter's sons (Arjun Sarja and Ashok Selvan), Kunjali's uncle (Siddique), the Panickers who were once kings (Suniel Shetty among them) and more. The challenge is to make at least a few of them memorable, but this is where the film's writing lets it down. The characters are all painted either black or white, and their personalities are defined in broad strokes. The betrayals and conspiracies therefore come as no surprise to the audience. Innocent and Mammukoya are dependable veterans in the cast who bring a few chuckles despite the predictability and theatrical staging of the scenes.
Manju Warrier plays Zubeida, the wife of a man who fought on Kunjali's side but was accidentally killed by him. The actor gets the short end of the stick, playing a predictable, poorly written role that hardly gives her scope to perform. It is perhaps only Prabhu, appearing as a Tamil warrior in Marakkar's group, who leaves an impact despite the limited screen time. The camaraderie between Kunjali and Thangudu is reminiscent of the enjoyable rapport that Mohanlal and Prabhu shared in Priyadarshan's Kaalapani.
Keerthy Suresh plays Archa, a young woman who becomes the reason for a major shift in loyalties among the warring groups. But again, there's very little that we know about Archa other than the fact that she's good at music and dance. Her romance with a Chinese man (Jay J. Jakkrit - his dialogue is restricted to saying 'Mama' but he impresses in action scenes) is explained away through a cliched song. But that's the least of the film's problems. If the idea of a mother giving her son divine protection from danger sounded vaguely familiar, the resemblance to Troy only gets stronger in the second half. From Achilles's wrath at the death of Patroclus to his subsequent revenge against the morally upstanding Hector, Marakkar takes generous inspirations from the film that was based on Homer's Iliad. It's not just the plot points, even scenes such as King Priam pleading with Achilles to release Hector's body have been reproduced in Marakkar.
The second half also feels very rushed. We never get to see how Kunjali strategizes. The only time we get a hint of it is when a coconut lands right next to him and he takes inspiration from it to formulate a war plan. Other than this though, everything just seems to fall in place for Kunjali.
The fight scenes are choreographed well but one can clearly spot where wires have been used. It must be acknowledged that Mohanlal has a majestic screen presence; however, the actor is not quite agile as the role demands. His dialogues too are uninspiring and repetitive after a point, touching upon the "mannum pennum" premise one too many times. We don't feel for Kunjali the way we should at the end of the film because he remains the same hazy, mythical figure that he is in the Wikipedia entry about him.
Marakkar is worth watching on the big screen for its making, but with the originality in the writing heavily compromised, the film doesn't quite roar as it should have with the talent on board.
Watch: Trailer of Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.