How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! – Isaiah 14:12.
Lucifer is an ambivalent character in mythology. He is the “son of the morning” or “the morning star” and also the dark, evil one who consummates his satanic plans through earthly kings and rulers. Prithviraj Sukumaran’s recently released Malayalam film Lucifer complicates it further by citing other mythological streams and comparing his protagonist to the likes of Mahiravana and Iblis. The film flaunts too many subtextual lures in the form of quotes, press clippings, textual references, visual motifs, factoids, and symbols.
But this plethora of references has no chance for any resonance. There is never a moment of respite that could let anything to sink in. The references are mere add-ons to the monotheistic vision of the film that pays obeisance to the one and only god: Mohanlal.
As a result, Murali Gopy’s screenplay appears to be a melange of many random things, genres and formats that are local and global, mythical and factual. The family drama-political thriller-action film-melodrama picks themes, tropes, motifs from umpteen sources and contexts to make a strange brew where the only recognisable element is a fan’s adulation for the vintage Mohanlal. This is the Mohanlal of yore, simultaneously the man next door and a superhuman, vulnerable lover and brutal avenger, self-effacing individual and omnipotent hero.
True to the lineage of his star persona, in Lucifer too, Mohanlal has several faces and phases: he is Stephen Nedumpally alias Esthapan alias Lucifer alias Khureshi Ab’ram. He is an orphan (invariably with enough hints about a noble lineage), who is adopted by a titan of a leader and later brought up and mentored by a kindhearted priest who runs an orphanage (a cameo appearance by director Fazil).
Stephen is part of the family of a revered leader (‘’the Bhishma of Kerala politics’’), but is an outsider in his adopted family. He is a mysterious politician back home, while in the outside world, he is an international don with dubious links to, among others, none less than the Illuminati.
Even in the midst of his global missions, Stephen finds the time to spend with kids at the orphanage. He mercilessly decimates drug mafia gangs across the globe with state-of-the-art weapons and also fistfights with local goons and flexes his muscles at the local police.
Caught between several worlds, one doesn’t know where he comes from or where he is bound to, but in all the worlds, he is King and Ruler. What else could a Mohanlal fan hope for? Especially, when the film itself is written and directed by two superstar fans?
The director’s adulation flows into the narrative too. Prithviraj Sukumaran plays the mysterious warrior Zayid Masud, who is at the beck and call of Lucifer, ever ready to protect his life and execute his orders.
During the last decade, one of the major efforts of the new generation of Malayalam filmmakers has been to make superstars redundant. Lucifer looks like a desperate attempt to renovate the temple and put the icons back in its place.
The film begins with a card telling us that 75% of money pumped into Indian politics comes from dubious sources linked to the underworld, which includes the drug mafia. An Interpol agent in France identifies one of the lynchpins, Khureshi Ab’ram. The narrative zooms down to Kerala, and the occasion is the demise of a veteran political leader. The rest of the film is a series of events triggered by this death in the family, and within the party.
Lucifer consists of at least four concentric circles. The first and innermost circle is that of the family of veteran leader PK Ramdas (Sachin Khedekar), his daughter and her family (her second husband Bimal Nair alias Bobby, played by Vivek Anand Oberoi, and Jhanvi, her daughter from the previous marriage). PKR has a son, Jathin (Tovino Thomas), who is abroad.
The second circle is PKR’s party, the Indian Union Front, with its umpteen ambitious and wily mid-level leaders such as Mahesha Varma, and the equally wily opposition party represented by Medayil Rajan. The third circle, which encompasses the inner two, is the drug mafia that operates at the national level with headquarters in Mumbai. They are eyeing Kerala as a lucrative drug hub through financing local political parties and engineering its policies.
The fourth and largest circle is that of the global drug mafia and the war against it led by Khureshi Ab’ram, who lords over globally connected gangs and trained mercenaries armed with sophisticated weaponry and the blessings of the Illuminati.
Interestingly, Prithviraj Sukumaran was the only actor to have raised his voice against the misogyny in the Malayalam industry and openly expressed his solidarity with the actress who was assaulted two years ago. One would expect greater gender sensitivity, if not advocacy, in a film directed by him.
There are certain token instances such as PKR’s daughter (played by Manju Warrier) lighting her father’s funeral pyre, and another poignant moment where she is shocked upon hearing from her daughter about her husband’s sexual advances. But for these two extraordinary moments – one ritualistic and the other about abuse – women have no significant roles or presence in Lucifer, which is all about macho idealism and dreams, patriarchal commitment, responsibility and revenge.
The only other significant female presence, and the who makes a direct impact on Stephen’s life and schemes, is the woman at the orphanage. She makes false allegations about sexual abuse by Stephen, which eventually leads to his arrest. She confesses that it was part of a larger conspiracy against Stephen. To use the charge of sexual abuse as fake and as an act of conspiracy is a mean response to the rise of women power in the Malayalam film industry and the Me Too wave in cinema worldwide.
Like in the industry, what is at stake in the movie is the reputation of the hero, which is falsely and conspiratorially spoilt by a woman, that too one who is a beneficiary of his charity. The only other scene where women occupy centre stage is the cliched item dance that gleefully celebrates male voyeurism.
The previous film scripted by Murali Gopy, Kammara Sambhavam, was an acerbic satire on politics, as to how history is created by the selective memory of the people and manipulated by the media. “History is a set of lies agreed upon,” the film announces at the outset, quoting Napoleon Bonaparte.
If Gopy debunked history in Kammara Sambhavam, in Lucifer, it is politics that is under attack. Politics here is nothing but by and for the powerful few. When history and politics are thus discredited, the world and its affairs are vacated of collective memories and social processes, and everything is held together and explained by conspiracies at all levels – that of the family, society, party and political system – all of which are run by dubious criminal organisations, drug and other mafias, and mysterious cults like Illuminati. It is a desolate landscape of despair where only power breathes.
The political intrigues within Lucifer are not without its angularities. It is not a coincidence that the two political parties – represented by PKR earlier and now by Mahesh Varma and Medayil Rajan on the other side – unabashedly resemble the two major political parties in Kerala. This dual nexus of power and crime, even as it mixes all kinds of elements, and makes very overt associations and parallels with Kerala politics, contains no reference to the other major player in the field – communal politics, its party and politicians. This Third Force is carefully and safely kept out of and above this morass of corruption, moral decay and shameless power broking. The political message that emerges from foregrounding only the other two points in the triangle in the foreground is obvious and loud.
In the end, Lucifer’s intervention rights all the local wrongs in all the lower circles that he leaves behind to continue his global crusades. Bimal Nair, the villain in the otherwise pristine family that is destined to rule the land, is eliminated; the real successor is brought back to claim the mantle; the wronged daughter is made to realise her mistakes and repent. The IUF party is cleansed of the mess, and the opposition put in its rightful place. The national drug mafia with Russian connections and their local links are liquidated.
“When you strike at a king, you must kill him”, says another line in the film, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson. The film seems to reverse Emerson’s sentiment to say, “When you adore a king, you should make a god of him.”