What happens when an auteur joins forces with the biggest star in their industry? This thought is exactly what propelled Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Mohanlal-starrer Malaikottai Vaaliban to become the most anticipated Malayalam movie of 2024. For Lijo, Vaaliban was his next directorial venture after the heavily acclaimed Mammootty film Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (2023), raising expectations to a remarkable level. Whereas for Mohanlal, this film was seen as an opportunity for redemption from the extensive criticism he has faced in recent years, with none of his performances standing out. Hence, the stakes were exceedingly high.

But, there is a Lijo Jose Pellissery out there for every Mohanlal; as long as you don’t find your LJP, you will never truly see the Mohanlal in you.

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Unlike Mohanlal’s most recent films, where makers often got carried away by either his stardom or his potential as a performer, the multi-genre Malaikottai Vaaliban strikes a fine balance between these aspects, while striving not to compromise on its overall quality. This approach affords Mohanlal ample space to showcase his A-game, as many of the old films that propelled him to his current stature shared similar characteristics.

In Vaaliban, we are not immediately introduced to a Lal delivering punch dialogues at every opportunity. Instead, our first glimpse of the actor is as he snores while resting on a bullock cart. As the stage is set for a wrestling match, Mohanlal emerges, accompanied by a Clint Eastwood-esque background score, adorned in maroon attire that seems stained with the blood of countless battles.

Without being tethered to a specific landscape or time period, Malaikottai Vaaliban unfolds alongside the titular character’s journey, traversing various locales as he asserts his strength and garners admiration from all, much like a folk tale. He is constantly accompanied by two persons: Ayyanar (Hareesh Peradi), whom he reveres as a father figure, and Chinna (Manoj Moses), the former’s son, whom Vaaliban treats as his own brother.