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Marakkar Lion of the Arabian Sea movie review: Mohanlal’s period drama is predictable yet engaging

Marakkar Lion of the Arabian Sea movie review: Priyadarshan tells an age-old story without wearing down the viewers, though after a point, you may feel the movie is reluctant to show its inevitable climax.

Marakkar Lion of the Arabian Sea movie director: Priyadarshan
Marakkar Lion of the Arabian Sea movie cast: Mohanlal, Suniel Shetty, Arjun Sarja, Prabhu, Ashok Selvan, Manju Warrier, Keerthy Suresh, Nedumudi Venu, Siddique, Mukesh, Pranav Mohanlal, Jay J. Jakkrit, Max Cavenham, and Toby Sauerback

One of the most anticipated Malayalam movies of the year, ‘Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea’ brings together Mohanlal and Priyadarshan combo, and has already attracted a bit of controversy regarding its release in theatres. The conversation about the Rs 100-crore club — associated with perhaps most Mohanlal movies – started even before its release. Who projects these figures? Well, no one knows!

To cut to the chase, how’s the movie? While eschewing adjectives, we could say the plot and narrative style of the movie is typical of the period dramas we have seen in the last decade in Malayalam such as Prithviraj’s ‘Urumi’ and Mammotty’s ‘Pazhassiraja’. Add a bit of ‘Bahubali’-inspired warfare ideas, and you have ‘Kunjali Marakkar- Arabikadalinte Simham’.

The movie tells the story of Kunjali Marakkar, a renowned navy admiral in 16th century Kerala when conflicts between Portuguese army under the command of Vasco Da Gama and Samoothiri (Zamorin) were common. The movie introduces us to a younger Kunjali Marakkar (Pranav Mohanlal), the youngest member of Marakkar family, who is all set to marry a princess (Kalyani Priyadarshan).

Marakkar family are believed to be the first commanders who organized a naval base in India to defend against a foreign threat. Given their superior knowledge of naval warfare, they were an integral part of Samoothiri’s fleet. As Marakkar family refuses to accept the new trade rules imposed by the Portuguese empire, it sparks a conflict that ends with the murders of the entire clan at the hands of the foreign power. The only two persons who escape the massacre are Kunjali Marakkar and his uncle Pattu Marakkar, played by Siddique.

Watch Marakkar Lion of the Arabian Sea movie trailer here:

Hiding in the forest, Kunjali establishes himself as a ‘Robinhood’ figure for those being exploited by landlords and Portuguese. Years roll by as Kunjali Marakkar becomes the most wanted criminal for the Portuguese and Zamorin alike, but is considered a saviour by the poor and exploited. Pranav Mohanalal paves way for his father Mohanlal from then on. The first half of the movie shows how Kunjali gets his revenge and regains the faith of Samoothiri.

Other characters are introduced in the second half of the film. The romance between Chinnali (played by Thailand-based actor Jay J Jakkrit), a faithful warrior of Kunjali, and Archa (Keerthy Suresh), daughter of a landlord, thickens the plot and causes a rift between Kunjali and Samoothiri. From then on, it’s a battle between Kunjali Marakkar’s small but fearless army and the mighty Portuguese army plus every ruler under Samoothiri empire combined.

The climax is predictable and is exactly like that in ‘Pazhassiraja’ and ‘Urumi.’ The film checks all the boxes that one expects from a period drama/ war movie. Pep talks to ignite the spirit of a defeated army, a personal revenge story, betrayal, the good and just rebel warrior, and finally an inevitable end that shows the lead character’s unapologetic nature even in the face of death.

The movie has its moments, thanks to Priyadarshan’s vision and all the movies that have come before with the same plot. However, despite the extravagant style of filmmaking, the lack of research in the language and culture of 16th century is apparent. The dialogues and language don’t suit the timeline of the story or the characters, and often become comical. For instance, the members of Marakkar family, a clan that believes in Islam, and Zamorin, the Brahmin ruler, have the same accent.

Another major drawback is underdeveloped female characters. Veteran actor Suhasini plays the usual overprotective mother of younger Kunjali and gets killed soon after the film starts. Known as the lady superstar of Malayalam, Manju Warrier plays a predictable role without much scope to perform. National Award-winning actor Keerthy Suresh plays a crucial yet short role, without any major impact. The fact that she plays veena like an electric guitar was funny though.

Mohanlal also fell short. The brutal battle spirit and cold-bloodedness expected from a seasoned warhorse like Kunjali was missing from the actor’s performance, although the tarred face during the battlefield sequences helped. Pranav showed glimpses of acting prowess in some scenes, but amateurish dialogue delivery failed him yet again. Hareesh Peradi’s portryal of Mangattachan, the commander in chief of Samootiri, was memorable.
There is a long list of familiar faces in Malayalam cinema playing different characters in this period drama. Late actor Nedumudi Venu, Siddique, Mukesh, Innocent, Mamookkoya, KB Ganesh Kumar and Baburaj portray their characters convincingly and in their usual style. Bollywood actor Sunil Shetty and veteran Tamil actors Prabhu and Arjun Sarja also add to the plethora of characters.

Priyadarshan tells an age-old story without wearing down the viewers, though after a point, you may feel the movie is reluctant to show its inevitable climax. Otherwise, the movie makes for an engaging watch. Tirru’s cinematography adds to the impact. The screenplay is by Priyadarshan and Ani Sasi. Rahul Raj has helmed the music.

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