Kumbalangi Nights — Heart in the Right Place
This movie is a stand-in for everything Malayalam cinema is good at. It does not have astronomical budgets, breakthrough marketing or special computer graphics. But the good news is, it does not need any of that. What Madhu C Narayanan and team have achieved is a way of tugging at your heartstrings with relatable next door characters and beautiful cinematography.
The film revolves around four brothers who share a love-hate relationship with each other. Their relationship progresses to another level when Saji, Bony, and Franky decide to help Bobby stand by his love.
Syam Pushkaran has crafted a story that seems magical, yet very near to us. It seems like all the characters in the movie, including the four heroes, the villain and sub characters have a life on their own out of this movie and that creates the pixie dust for this movie. Instead of creating generic heroes, villains and supporting characters, the plot just moves on at its natural pace giving each character a motivation to exist and act the way they do.
The plot has also driven clear of a stereotype, the stories that focus in Kochi so far end up going into drug filled corridors and mobster filled slums. Instead, our story movies to a fishing village called Kumbalangi inhabited mostly by fishermen, tourist operators and jobless youth. On the question of drugs, one of our main characters even retorts that those are for people who think, we are 100% chill. Our main characters are jobless, mostly hopeless until a girl comes into their lives. The movie also makes it clear that the characters are not jobless because there are no jobs, it’s because they find the available ones/ones they are good at beneath them. They find remaining jobless better than a small job and blame the society for killing their dreams.
There are lots of dialogues in this film and but none of those are generic ones that would hear in a theatre. It just seems like your neighbor, a friend, a barber or a girl next door. This is why even when the jokes fall flat, you don’t mind. Because it is still something that you would hear in real life. The characters reference other movies constantly from other dialogues and this only adds to the sense that they live among us.
The villain of this story deserves special mention. He is no superhuman, he does not kill on command, he does not carry special weapons, we do not see him hurting anyone till a point of transformation in the script. Yet, it did seem like everything was leading up to that. The movie has conveyed so much about the character through subtle nuances, background score, and dialogue. For a predictable story, this brilliance in the plot brings in the much-needed suspense. We are terrified, on the edge of the seats fearing for our main characters as all their lives are at stake.
There are four brothers in this story: Saji, Bobby, Bonny and Franky played by Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi and Matthew Thomas. Out of them, Franky has a scholarship and has moved away from home. Bonny is mute and has moved into taking dance as a career and spend most of the time away from home. Saji and Bobby though spending most of their time in the same house, does not agree with each other quite yet and things get physical most of the time. All four of them are brilliant and portrays their characters with ease, sometimes they are so into their element that it feels just natural. Saji’s character arc of going from a goofy character who depended on others and lamented not getting an opportunity to take care of his brothers to someone who is caring and dependable for the entire family is beautiful. So is Bobby’s arc of getting ahead of his issues with society and commitment.
The villain character played by Fahadh Faasil is scary, creepy and unpredictable. Even though he does not hurt a soul till the climax of the movie, his subtle nuances and nods make him feel scary far better than any horror film. The fact that he sees himself as a hero in the story and/or cares for no other person gets the creepiest undertone. He is also a reflection of moral policing in society, where he spies on a couple in their private room but on the verge of getting caught, he suddenly turns the good guy and tries to bounce them out of the apartment for having sex. Instead of admitting his mistake, he brings out the rule book contriving the rules to his favor. He is responsible for quite a few awkward moments in the movie and his mannerisms ensure that the audience feels it too. We get to see how Fahadh rises to power in his wifes' house (if you call that rise to power), though scenes like a dialogue with Baby claiming responsibility or moving the chair to the prime position during a family dinner.
All the woman characters in the movie are a gem. You see a character Simi, who is portrayed as a patriarchial woman afraid of her husband. But when she sees hints of abuse in the family, she breaks loose and decides to act against it at all cost. The heroine, Baby played by Anna Ben is an independent strong woman who works as a tour guide, speaks the language fluently and manages a homestay for foreigners. She has strong views about love and breaks the Malayalam movie stereotype of Thepp quite easily. Even when the hero hints at breakup or possibilities end one by one, she is unmoving from her position and suggests a solution for every problem. Her chemistry with Shane Nigam is impeccable and plays out the character with the right balance of tenderness and boldness. We need more of these fleshed out women characters.
Cinematography and Soundtrack
Kumbalangi Nights is proof that we don’t need a complicated screen setup or abroad locations for a picturesque view. Shyju Khalid brings in a few of the most beautiful frames from the village that you would want to experience the village first hand yourself. You don’t even stand a doubt of why so many tourists come to this small village. Even a house with almost nothing but a roof and four walls looks beautiful in those camera frames.
There is a wide range of English songs to slow Malayalam melodies in this movie and none break the illusion. Bobby carries around a headset/speaker wherever he goes, and this blurts out the most random English songs at moments. He uses it as a support mechanism. Add in some tips and effects from Guardians of the Galaxy and we have a good concept. The soundtracks for each of Fahadh’s set pieces is feeble but creepy. The mood ramps up by the end raising the tempo step by step and we suddenly feel the heat.
What it could have been
The other main characters Bonnie and Franky could also have had a character arc to complete by the end of the movie. They both remain the same characters as when the movie started, expect may be in a happier place. There was a hint of a character arc for Franky where he was shown to be ashamed of his house in the beginning. Later in the movie, you see the reaction to it when Bonnie’s girlfriend calls his house Beautiful. Had he actually bought home his friends to spend time with his brothers, it could have been a beautiful ending to his arc as well (I’m guessing they did come for Bobby’s wedding, but could have been more specific on that) Shanes’ change from considering his relationship as a way to get into bed with her to believe in true love was mostly based on a dialogue. If that had happened at the marriage of his friend (your partner in crime getting married and ready to move on in life can be a huge motivator), it could have been more believable. Babys character also ended up the same from the start.
All in all, Kumbalangi Nights is a small, beautiful movie that will surely end up tugging at your hearts strings. Must Watch!!