Director Basil Joseph and actor Tovino Thomas peeled back some of the deepest layers of their latest movie Minnal Murali during a lengthy discussion with The Indian Express senior film critic Shubhra Gupta. The Netflix film has found favour with audiences across the world and truly demolished the language barrier.
The duo addressed how the subject of mental illness, the social stigma that surrounds it and lack of awareness about mental health in the society formed the core narrative of Minnal Murali, which came out on the OTT platform on December 24 last year.
Even though there are precedents about how society’s indifference turns ordinary people into supervillains in Hollywood superhero movies, Basil’s inspiration for it, however, was homegrown, just like his superhero character, Minnal Murali.
“There is a movie called Thaniyavarthanam (1987), in which the hero’s uncle is mentally ill. And society thinks that the hero has inherited the illness of his uncle. And he’s treated like an outcast. But, eventually, he will turn out to be someone like… (Shibu). Shibu’s mother has an issue of mental illness and society thinks he might have inherited it. So they treat him like an outcast. Even when he’s asked to marry a girl, the girl’s brother refuses his proposal citing his mother’s mental illness,” Basil said.
Basil explained that Sibhu’s anger didn’t stem from an illness but from the pain caused by years of mistreatment and humiliation.
“At the beginning of the movie when Sibhu says that he lost his wallet, the police officer surprisingly asks, ‘even you have a wallet?’ As if he’s someone who was not supposed to have a wallet. And the tea shop owner slaps on the back of Sibhu’s head. After years of being mistreated by people, he becomes a loner and loses confidence in himself. But, with his superpower, he becomes more confident. He starts to comb his hair, cut his nails. Sibhu is not doing what he’s doing because he’s mentally ill. He acts that way because he’s treated like a mad person,” he added.
Tovino Thomas also revealed that at first, he wanted to play Sibhu’s character as he thought it had a very strong emotional core. But, he let go of his desire, after Basil told him that he had plans to turn Minnal Murali into a franchise. “I asked Basil if I could play Sibhu. And when the villain role is getting all the praise, I am so proud that my judgment was right,” he added.
And Tovino believes that while Sibhu is not innately evil, there are more villainous characters in the movie who go scot-free.
“I think he’s (Sibhu) not the villain of the movie until some point. I think the people around Sibhu are more villainous than him, including the guy who sets Sibhu’s house on fire. Whatever Sibhu is doing, he is doing out of his loss. He’s not doing it just to hurt people. He has been treated like sh**t since his childhood and that’s why he’s giving back to those people. But, a lot of innocent people come under Sibhu’s attack and that’s why Jaison had to intervene and do all these things. So I don’t consider him as an ugly villain we see in other movies,” he explained.
Basil suggested that while no one can justify Sibhu going on a killing spree, the audience should also be aware of the reasons that prompted Sibhu’s actions
“Sibhu’s actions can’t be justified and at the same time, the actions of people around Sibhu also can’t be justified. They make a villain out of Sibhu and then judge him. I don’t think that’s fair,” added Tovino.