Marakkar - A beautiful view of potential
The minute I saw the first trailer for Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea, I was hyped. I was excited to see a historical epic set in the backdrop of the Portuguese invasion of Kerala in the 1600s. The trailer was set beautifully, the cast looked solid and the world looked deeply immersive. Originally set to release on March 19th, 2020 in 5 languages, the uncertainty of the pandemic took a toll on the magnum opus, pushing the release date down the drain to December 2nd 2021.
For a movie that runs 181 mins, which is a few too many minutes in my opinion, the visuals are fabulous. Every second of every shot, the movie does take care to feel immersive in its own world and lore. The actors do a solid job, with Mohanlal carrying the movie with his charisma as Kunjali Marakkar.
When the minute a movie goes above the 120 min mark is the point where you wonder, should this have been a tv series instead? In this case, yes, it should have been. While the first half is mostly solid, by the two-hour mark you start to wonder, why is this dragging on? The pointless love triangle and political squabble in the second half feel like the producer saw ‘Game of Thrones’ once, clearly pre-finale, thought “This a popular historical thing with a lot of political power play, which the kids like, I want that”. The result is a confusing mess of characters where none of them besides Kunjali and arguably Subeida get a solid stab of development.
The problems in the plot structure are obvious. The film begins with a guy getting beheaded in Kochi but at no point in the story do we go back there. Why have 5 different pro-Portuguese characters in the King’s court where none of them get any depth and the betrayal can be seen a mile away? The lazy cliche with the doomed love triangle and the subsequent fights and death seems a poor way to clear the board of characters to herald a future defeat for our heroes. I couldn’t find it in me to appreciate the callback to Troy with the brave father requesting the corpse of his noble son from the enemy because the way they reach it is so contrived.
It is understandable that a big-budget historical epic relies on tropes as shorthand for its characters. However, the film attempts a balancing act between a masala movie and a deeper political intrigue and that’s where it fails. The script fails to give justice to the ensemble cast, giving them no time to develop and show the shades of grey that all good political players have. It was an impossible task all along because that kind of development requires the space of a TV series to explore machinations and keep the game interesting. On the other hand, a good masala movie needs a solid third act where the hero rises from the ashes of his own mistakes and gives the audience a strong satisfactory conclusion in victory or defeat. One would guess that a seasoned filmmaker like Priyadarshan would know that and would focus on strengthening the script, instead of piling of star power to mask its weaknesses.
In the end, Marakkar is a beautiful view of potential. All the pieces are there. While I personally would have loved to see this as a series that details the rise and fall of Kunjali and the way he played the game, I could how pieces of the existing one can make quite a decent movie around the 2-hour mark. But trying to be both is what sinks it, and like the Titanic, it is a lovely view to comfort a tragic fate