Nivin Pauly in 'Malayalee from India'
Nivin Pauly in 'Malayalee from India'

Nivin Pauly’s Malayalee from India is a messily stuffed falooda that overflows

Nivin and Dhyan are funny together in a film that initially pulls no punches. But halfway, ‘Malayalee from India’ reduces itself to caricatures and goes for the low-hanging fruit.
Malayalee From India (Malayalam)(2 / 5)

Director Dijo Jose Antony and writer Sharis Mohammed’s political films are like falooda. There’s a long list of ingredients that goes into the cup, one more enticing than the other. The audience, too, gulps it down easily because who doesn’t like falooda? The duo also has a knack for picking up subjects that they know will hit a chord with the audience – if it was sexual violence in the campus film Queen (2018), it was caste politics in Jana Gana Mana (2022). In Malayalee From India, it is religious bigotry.

But like their previous outings, this film too suffers from wonky politics and overblown sentiments. Malayalee From India starts on an interesting note. Alaparambil Gopi (Nivin Pauly) and his friend Malghosh (Dhyan Sreenivasan) are supporters of a Hindu right wing party. They’re convinced the party will sweep the upcoming elections, and go around spouting its propaganda. The first half stays afloat because of the humour in the writing. For example, Gopi and Malghosh are discussing how prosperous the nation has become because of their Great Leader. The GDP is so many lakh crores but they have only Rs 18 between the two of them. This doesn’t dim their bhakti towards the Great Leader though. No marks for guessing which political party this is or who the Great Leader in question is. 

The film pulls no punches in setting up such scenes, and Nivin and Dhyan are funny together. But the plot has bigger ambitions than just being a story about an aimless youth who adopts the identity of a bigot because it makes him feel important. Like Queen and Jana Gana Mana, here too, there is an incident which makes the headlines. Just as you think the rest of the film will be about unravelling the truth behind it, Malayalee veers away from that track and moves to something else altogether. But, that’s a choice that derails the film. 

The second half is a spoof of Aadujeevitham set during the pandemic. From a script where the little things make us laugh because they feel so real (like the mother-son scenes between the wonderful Manju Pillai and Nivin), Malayalee reduces itself to caricatures and goes for the low-hanging fruit. The ‘sahib’ here is a large Pakistani man and among other things, there’s an unnecessary homophobic scene thrown in for laughs. The shift is abrupt and the first and the second half feel like they’re from two different films. 

There’s also the constant balancing act in the narrative that grates on your nerves. If you show the Hindu side to be bad, you have to compensate by showing the Muslim side to also be bad. If you show a progressive Muslim, you have to show a regressive Muslim. If you slap a Muslim fundamentalist, you have to slap a Hindu fundamentalist. If you show a Hindu terrorist, you have to show a Muslim terrorist. If you show a humane Pakistani, you have to show a savage Pakistani. This earnest “both sides” batting at the same time turns the film into a muddle. Imagine, it happens to an extent that a Pakistani character – clearly inspired by Malala Yousafzai who took a bullet to her head for the sake of girls’ education – thanks a random Indian man at the United Nations for enlightening her.

Malayalee’s message is that if India mixes religion and state like Pakistan did, we will spiral into a hellhole. Like Sudani from Nigeria (2018), from which the title draws its inspiration, this is an appeal to respect humanity over differences. But the film neither displays an understanding of history nor geopolitics. Making a bunch of Pakistanis look awestruck at India’s achievements and icons – and then specifically fans of ‘God’s Own Country’ – isn’t the best way to go about making a case against jingoism, is it? The third act becomes blatantly maudlin, with the background score soaring higher and higher and Nivin looking increasingly uncomfortable in the emotional scenes. 

Anaswara Rajan, who gave such a sterling performance in Neru (2023), is wasted in the role of Krishna, a young woman who is stalked by Gopi. This plot thread was probably written just to include a marketable song that will appeal to young people – in the way it is shot and executed – for the film. While the “love story” goes nowhere, it is still disturbing to see such a song presented as goofy and comic. 

Malayalee from India is watchable when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But there is so much stuffed into the plot that the falooda overflows – and the mess isn’t a pretty sight. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture, and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.

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