Mahesh Bhavana (Fahadh Faasil) is a small-time photographer who lives with his father, Vincent Bhavana (K. L. Antony Kochi). They run the digital-photography Bhavana Studio in the Prakash region of Idukki district in Kerala. Next to the studio is a flex-board printing shop owned by Mahesh's good friend, Baby (Alencier Ley Lopez). His assistant Crispin (Soubin Shahir) is a Photoshop wizard who designs the flex-boards. Mahesh is in a relationship with Soumya (Anusree), his high-school sweetheart.
Baby becomes involved in a trivial argument with a loafer in the centre of the village. The dispute escalates, but passersby calm them down. However, Crispin appears and attacks the man who had argued with Baby. The man, joined by Jimson Augustine (Sujith Shanker), jumps on Crispin in retaliation. Noticing the commotion, Mahesh tries to calm everyone down but Jimson, furious at Mahesh's authoritative stance, beats him up. Vincent breaks up the fight. Embarrassed, Mahesh vows to get back at Jimson and pledges that he will wear slippers only after he has avenged his humiliation.
Soumya is forced to end her relationship with Mahesh. He learns about Jimson's whereabouts from Crispin and visits the garage where he apparently works as a welder. Its owner tells him that Jimson left for a better job in Dubai. Despite Baby's advice that he should forget the incident, Mahesh resolves to wait for Jimson's return; several weeks later, he enrolls in a kung fu course.
Jimsy Augustine (Aparna Balamurali), a young college student, goes to Bhavana Studio. She tells Mahesh that she wants to participate in Vanitha's cover competition and asks him to make her look as good as possible. Perplexed at the unusual request, Mahesh conducts the photo shoot. Jimsy's photograph turns out to be dull and unimpressive, and her irritation makes Mahesh question his skill as a photographer. Upset, he turns to his father for advice. Vincent explains photography as an art to his son. Mahesh goes through his father's photograph collection, finally understanding their angles and lighting, and gets an idea.
Instead of his familiar still photography, Mahesh photographs Jimsy in motion and sends the best photo to the magazine. Shortly afterward, Jimsy goes to Mahesh's house with the magazine containing her photo. Although she rebukes him for photographing her without permission, she also praises the photo. They become interested in each other, and soon fall in love. Jimsy realises this first, and calls Mahesh to talk about their future. She tells him that she is Jimson's younger sister, but his agitation is overshadowed by love and he decides to continue their relationship.
Several weeks later, Jimson is fired from his job for slapping his manager and is deported back to India. The following day, Mahesh and Baby challenge him to a hand-to-hand combat. After a few minutes of fighting, Mahesh pins down Jimson and Baby declares him the winner. Mahesh meets Jimson in a hospital on the next day and introduces himself to his mother in front of Jimsy. He admits his love for Jimsy and asks Jimson for his sister's hand in marriage, as Jimson and his mother look at each other in disbelief.Fahadh Faasil as Mahesh Bhavana, a photographer and owner of Bhavana Studio
Aparna Balamurali as Jimsy Augustine, a college student
Anusree as Soumya, a nurse and Mahesh's ex-girlfriend
Alencier Ley Lopez as Baby, owner of Baby Arts Flex Printing
Soubin Shahir as Crispin, a Photoshop wizard
K. L. Antony Kochi as Vincent Bhavana, Mahesh's father
Sujith Shankar as Jimson Augustine, Jimsy's brother
Lijomol Jose as Soniya, Baby's daughter
Jaffer Idukki as Kunjumon, Soumya's father
Achunthanandan as Thahir, an overzealous village councillor
Vijilesh as Vijilesh
Leena Antony as Jimsy's mother
Dileesh Pothan as Eldho, an American Malayali (cameo appearance)
Maheshinte Prathikaaram is based on an incident in screenwriter Syam Pushkaran's native village. During the filming of Aashiq Abu's Idukki Gold (2013), Pushkaran discussed it with Abu's associate-director Dileesh Pothan. The idea for a film was developed; it was decided to set and shoot it in Idukki, since it was a good location for a story about people living in the countryside. In August 2014, Fahadh Faasil was reported to star in the film, with Abu bankrolling it through his OPM Dream Mill Cinemas. Production house announced the news on their Facebook page. It was Faasil's second film for Abu after 22 Female Kottayam (2012). Bijibal was signed as the film's composer and Shyju Khalid as its cinematographer. Filming was planned to start in the first week of December 2014.
Maheshinte Prathikaaram was Pushkaran's first independent screenplay. In September 2014, Faasil was reported to join the project after completing Anwar Rasheed's Maniyarayile Jinnu. Because of Faasil's scheduling conflicts, production was postponed until early June 2015. It was postponed again when the actor was unavailable due to a conflict with Naale and Ayal Njanalla. Maheshinte Prathikaaram began production in early August 2015 for a planned Christmas release.
The character of Mahesh was based on Kuriyachira Purushan (popularly known as Thampan Purushan), Pushkaran's neighbour in their native Thuravoor, Alappuzha. Purushan was publicly beaten and humiliated when he tried to break up a fight, and vowed to wear his slippers only after he avenged the man who embarrassed him. His "enemy" went to Dubai, and he had to wait three years for revenge. As a child, Pushkaran heard about the incident from Purushan and discussed it with Pothan as an idea for a screenplay. Pushkaran began writing, setting the story in Pothan's native Kottayam; it was later changed to Idukki. He studied Idukki's culture and characteristics in his two-month stay during the filming of Idukki Gold, and found it an ideal backdrop. Pushkaran added a fictional romance to the story. The film paid tribute to Purushan (who died in December 2015 while the film was in post-production) in a title card.
Despite Maheshinte Prathikaaram's title, Pothan intended it to be a comedy: "I enjoy humour with a poignant touch. This was a narrative that had the potential to be a thriller but we wanted that element of realism to shine through". He and Pushkaran worked on the screenplay for nearly three years. With a few assistant directors, they honed it for about three months in Prakash City, a mountain village near Kattappana in Idukki (where the film is set). The screenplay was based on their observations of the village near the kavala (junction), which generated a detailed backstory for each of the film's characters. Pothan took note of the mannerisms of the shopkeepers in the kavala whom he considered a "witness to many of the incidents that unfold in the village, real and reel".
The screenplay was revised several times between pre-production and filming, with Pushkaran preparing its first draft in mid-2013. In the meanwhile, he completed scripts for three other films. According to the writer, its creation was unhurried; the film was about village life, with which he was familiar (Thampan Purushan, on whom the story is based, was his father's friend). Pushkaran added that the screenplay had "less research but more observation". A revised screenplay was prepared after completing the casting, and it underwent several more revisions as filming progressed. Pushkaran, Pothan and Khalid discussed the screenplay every night after filming. Pushkaran said that there were changes to every scene in the film, based on suggestions by the director and cast.
According to Pothan, the film had the "perfect casting, despite the fact that several of them were newcomers". He first discussed the film with Fahadh Faasil during the filming of Iyobinte Pusthakam in 2014, in which the director played a minor role. Faasil, enthusiastic about the project, agreed to appear in the film after fulfilling his other commitments. Pothan described Mahesh as a simpleton with a multi-layered character and wanted an actor who would provide much finesse and subtlety to the portrayal. He added that Faasil was chosen for the "natural and spontaneous" actor in him. Pothan and Pushkaran cast Soubin Shahir as Crispin early in the screenwriting process. The director summoned Sujith Shanker, who debuted in Njan Steve Lopez (2015), for a script-briefing section as a possible Jimson. Although Shanker liked the story, he was uncertain whether he would fit in the role; however, Pothan had confidence in him.
In May 2015, Anusree was cast as Soumya, a nurse who is Mahesh's childhood sweetheart. Aparna Balamurali, who had appeared in Oru Second Class Yathra (2015), was encouraged by Pushkaran's wife (who is her university instructor) to audition for the role of Jimsy. Balamurali was briefed about her character only two days before filming began. Faasil suggested Alencier Ley Lopez, with whom he had worked in Annayum Rasoolum (2013), for Baby's role. Newcomer Lijimol Jose was chosen for the role of Soniyamol after she answered a casting call. Theatrical couple K. L. Antony Kochi and Leena Antony made their film debuts as Vincent Bhavana and Jimsy's mother, respectively. Pothan also hired local people to appear in the film in "whatever clothes they turned up in"; he believed that if he cast only actors, "the reality would have been compromised". The director wanted to "feel each frame of the film, be it the rustic ambiance, the clothes or the accent".
Ajayan Chalissery was Maheshinte Prathikaaram's art director. Chalissery designed the set for Mahesh's Bhavana Studio and nearby buildings, including a footwear shop which was built in a vacant area. "Each and every property used for the movie, from the steel plates used in kitchen to the photos and frames hung on the walls, the windows and doors, everything was intentionally used to reflect a house of Idduki natives", said Ajayan. Designer Sameera Saneesh was in charge of the film's costumes. All clothes worn by the cast were secondhands, bartered from local residents in exchange for new clothes, since Pothan believed that Maheshinte Prathikaaram's details should appear realistic. Martial artist and trainer "Kung-fu" Sajith was the film's stunt coordinator.
Filming began in early August 2015, during the wet season, in the Idukki district of Kerala. Major portions of the film were shot in Thopramkudy, near Kattappana. In September, while filming in Cheruthoni, Faasil sustained a leg injury while performing a stunt with co-star Sujith Shanker. Although a two-day rest was advised, he decided to press on because of the tight shooting schedule. The filming in Idukki, which took 45 days, was wrapped up in late October.
There were two fight scenes in the film. For realism, the actors fought without rehearsing. Although the first scene utilised music and other technical enhancements, Pothan wanted the climactic fight to look more natural: "I felt it would be better to film it without its cinematic nature. To be able to relate to the scene, it had to look natural. Fahadh and Sujith had a tough time while shooting". The scene was filmed in four days on muddy grounds near the Cheruthoni and Idukki Dams. The film's appooppan thadi (milkweeds) were artificial; about 1,000 were made from lightweight materials. In a scene where Crispin cuts them down, most blew upward like real milkweeds and the scene had to be re-shot several times.
Cellador Productions of Bangalore worked on the film's sound design; Nixon George and Rajeesh K. R. designed its soundscape. Since Maheshinte Prathikaram was set in Prakash City in Idukki, it required natural sounds which blended with the dialogue and music instead of dominating them. George and Rajeesh recorded in all the locations and found it of great help during the final editing process. Creating sound effects for the climactic fight was difficult: "We used a big piece of meat to produce the sound effects of punches and kicks. It took a long time and a lot of trial and error". Editor Saiju Sreedharan was the film's colourist, correcting the colour grading and developing its digital intermediate.
The film's four-song soundtrack and score were composed by Bijibal, who also sang two songs. Lyrics were by Rafeeq Ahammed and Santhosh Varma; Varma wrote the final song, "Cherupunjiri". Bijibal, Vijay Yesudas, Sudeep Kumar, Sangeetha Sreekanth, Aparna Balamurali and Nikhil Mathew contributed vocals to the soundtrack. The film's songs were released by Muzik 247 on 26 January 2016.
The music was composed after the lyrics were written; Ahammed wrote the song "Idukki" as a poem in one day. According to Bijibal, it was easy to compose "Idukki" because it had such "motivati[ng] lyrics". He originally recorded the song with a small orchestra, singing it himself. The composer later recorded another version with a lush orchestra; however, Pothan thought it lacked the beauty of the original and used the first version in the film. In addition to her role as Jimsy, Balamurali sang "Mounangal" with Yesudas. Balamurali stated that she was made to sing on the sets frequently and opined that it influenced them at a later stage.
The score album for Maheshinte Prathikaaram composed by Bijibal was released on 22 February 2016 for digital download by Muzik 247. It consists of a total of nine tracks.
Maheshinte Prathikaaram, which uses rain as a metaphor, was filmed during the monsoon. Pothan cited K. G. George's 1982 film, Yavanika, as influencing him to use rain as part of the director's storytelling. The first half of the film was shot in the rain or immediately afterwards, when the clouds were gone. Mahesh weeps during a downpour after attending his ex-girlfriend's wedding; the rain becomes a metaphor to "wash away the dreams Mahesh had built, essentially, giving him a new lease of life". It was the film's only use of a rain unit.
According to Sreehari Nair of Rediff.com, Maheshinte Prathikaaram has the key qualities of a great short story; he found it closer to the creative non-fiction style specialised by the writers of Esquire magazine in 1960s in terms of rhythm and pacing. Nair noted strong left-wing ideology in the film due to Pothan's political philosophy, with the director indirectly using the idea of equality inherent in his characters' belief system: "A game one can play on every subsequent viewing of the movie is to note how a major character in one scene had appeared as a minor character in some scene before". Each of the film's characters was unique. Pushkaran later clarified that the film did not reflect his personal or political views.
In an interview for The Hindu, Fahadh called Maheshinte Prathikaaram a "serious comedy". Despite its title, the film differed from earlier Malayalam revenge-centred films. It begins with Mahesh bathing in a pond, humming a popular song from 2000's Narasimham (a cult action film). It also alludes to the doomed character Sethumadhavan's vengeance in Kireedam (1989) and Chenkol (1993). In his review for The Times of India, Sanjith Sidhardhan called the film the "sweetest tale of revenge"; it "is not a regular revenge thriller; it has a heavy dose of rib-tickling comedy that stems from the actions of its rustic characters and their sensibilities".
Maheshinte Prathikaaram's release plans were announced in January 2016. The film was released in 67 theatres in Kerala on 5 February. It was released in the rest of India on 12 February, and internationally two weeks later. The film was distributed in India by OPM Dream Mill Cinemas, opening outside Kerala in Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Manipal, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Vizag. On 19 February 2016, it was released in Mumbai, Pune, Gujarat, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. Tricolor Entertainments handled the film's Asia-Pacific distribution in Australia (22 screens), New Zealand (10 screens), Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Brunei. Celluloid Japan obtained the distribution rights for Japan, where the film opened in Tokyo on 5 March. Maheshinte Prathikaaram was released in the United Kingdom on 6 March by PJ Entertainments, and in the United Arab Emirates on 17 March by Gulf Film.
The film was released on DVD and VCD by SAINA Video Vision on 10 May 2016. The film's television broadcasting right was purchased by Mazhavil Manorama, it premiered on TV on 14 September 2016, during the festival time of Onam in Kerala.
It employed the "minimal poster" concept for post-release publicity, using less space to convey the film's theme. In one poster, only a pair of flip-flops was seen. The posters were understood by those who had seen the film, and it was hoped they would pique the curiosity of those who had not. By March, the film's producers released a number of "dialogue posters" on social networking sites with popular lines from its characters.
After Maheshinte Prathikaaram's release, Pothan, Abu, Faasil and Shahir visited theatres across Kerala to analyse audience reaction to the film; Faasil made a surprise appearance at a Payyanur theatre's ticket counter. In March, the crew (including Abu, Faasil, Jaffer Idukki and Bijibal) spoke with students at the Al Azhar College of Arts and Science in Thodupuzha in conjunction with the Mahatma Gandhi University Art Fest. For Vishu on 14 April, the producers released a three-minute behind-the-scenes video featuring auditions and the filming of several scenes.
Without pre-release promotion, Maheshinte Prathikaaram did well at the box office and was praised by critics. Word of mouth ensured the film's success, and Faasil's performance was considered one of the best of his career by a number of critics. The film's cinematography and music were also praised. It was a star vehicle for Faasil after several unsuccessful films. It was ranked number one on the list of top 15 Malayalam movies of 2016.
After witnessing a low opening in the morning shows at the Kerala box office, the film's earnings picked up from the evening shows due to positive response from the audience. Favourable word of mouth helped the film, with its screen count in Kerala increasing from 67 to 88 in one week. The film performed steadily in Kerala during its third week, earning a total of ₹1 crore (₹10 million) over the weekend. After three weeks, its total earnings exceeded ₹10 crore (₹100 million). By the end of its run, it had earned ₹17.35 crore (₹173.5 million) in Kerala and was the highest-grossing film at the January – June box office. It had a run of over 125 days in some Kerala theatres, and ran for more than 50 days in Chennai. The film was made on a budget of ₹4.50 crore.
Maheshinte Prathikaram was the highest earning Malayalam film at the United States box office over its third weekend (11–13 March), grossing $16,819 on 17 screens and outperforming Action Hero Biju and Vettah. It earned a total of $70,238 in three weeks. Earnings dropped to $9,750 over the fourth weekend (18–20 March) from 13 screens. It maintained the top position over its sixth weekend (1–3 April) grossing $5,086 from seven screens for a six-week total of $92,596. It was the highest earning Malayalam film at the United Kingdom-Ireland box office during its second weekend (11–13 March), grossing £5,274 from 29 screens for a two-week total of £32,437. The film earned a total of £35,055 after its fourth weekend in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
S. R. Praveen of The Hindu gave a positive review: "Syam Pushkaran, in writing the revenge story, takes away the usual ingredients of hate and anger, and replaces it with lots of humour, arriving as a torrent in one-liners, in situations and even in the minute gestures of the characters ... Maheshinte Prathikaram provides clean entertainment, treading new paths in that endeavour. If revenge comes like this, let's have more of it". He praised Pothan's direction and Faasil's performance. Sify also had a positive review: "It's not often that you come across such an intelligent comedy that is extremely funny, thoroughly gripping and brilliantly packaged". The reviewer praised the performances: "One of the best things about this one is the performance of every artiste, both in main roles and also those who are there even in a scene or so". Also praising the screenplay, cinematography, and music, the review concluded: "Maheshinte Prathikaram is one of the finest comedies to have happened in Malayalam during recent years".
Mythily Ramachandran of Gulf News praised the film's humour and performances: "The anger and hatred one often associates with a revenge tale is missing"; humour takes over, and the film "busts the notion that revenge tales must be laden with gore and violence". According to Deepa Gauri of the Khaleej Times, Maheshinte Prathikaram is a boon for a Malayalam cinema with an "identity crisis". She praised the film's screenplay and direction: "Every frame shows the minute detailing, which gives [Maheshinte Prathikaaram] its real heart. Charming you with wit, underlining humour and with characters who behave without any cinematic hangover". Raj Vikram of Metromatinee.com also gave a positive review: "There is not a single scene in the film which appears cooked up ... He [Pothan] must be commended for being sure-footed about what he intended to portray". Vikram praised the performances by Faasil and the supporting cast, the "magnificent camera" and the "songs which seamlessly and melodiously merge with the narrative", concluding that it "is a movie that is true to itself. It surprises with its all pervading simplicity and makes even revenge look like a stroll in the park".
Anu James of the International Business Times gave the film four out of five stars and called it "a simple movie with the right amount of romance, comedy, action and revenge". Appreciating its casting and performances, James also praised the film's technical aspects: its cinematography, "crisp editing", direction, music, screenplay, costume design and art direction. Litty Simon of Malayala Manorama rated Maheshinte Prathikaram 3.75 out of 5: "Dileesh [Pothan] has managed to give a realistic and emotional drama. Humour blends well with the storyline in a subtle and spontaneous manner [with a] well-crafted script". Simon praised the performances of Faasil and others in the cast and the film's music and cinematography: "With its simplicity and realistic approach, the two-and-a-half-hour-long movie is refreshing and belongs to the 'neat' entertainer category".
Sanjith Sidhardhan of The Times of India rated the film 3.5 out of 5: "Maheshinte Prathikaaram is a movie that has many feel-good moments and something everybody can relate to. This tale of sweet revenge is a rare genial comedy". He appreciated its casting and screenplay, cinematography, editing and music, praising the performances of Faasil and other cast members and calling the film "visually appealing". Paresh C. Palicha of Rediff.com gave the film three out of five stars, praising Faasil's performance and its narrative style: "The plot is driven by characters and their reactions to a particular situation, and there is no solid form of story where we see a growth in characters or logical progression in the story".47th Kerala State Film Awards
Best Film with Popular Appeal and Aesthetic Value
Best Screenplay (Original) - Syam Pushkaran