Kumbalangi Nights is, without a doubt, a simple yet magical tale that the ever-dependable Syam Pushkaran has penned and Madhu C Narayanan has directed. Why I mention these two names before everyone else’s is because I wish to emphasise how the former’s effortlessly brilliant writing and the latter’s craft are integral to the success of this film. There is a sense of conviction in each of the scenes that Pushkaran has written and they’ve been rendered scintillatingly fresh by Narayanan.
Kumbalangi Nights, 2019’s first gem, is greatly supported by Shyju Khalid’s marvelous cinematography and Sushin Shyam’s hauntingly relaxing musical score. Describing the performances of the cast members, including the four brothers – Bobby (Shane Nigam), Saji (Soubin Shahir), Boney (Sreenath Bhasi), and Franky (Mathew Thomas), as well as the women who enter their lives – Babymol (Anna Ben), Nylah (Jasmine Metivier), and Sathy (Sheela Rajkumar, is a challenge as superlatives fall short. Of course, rounding off the cast is the cleverly underwritten antagonist Shammy (Fahadh Faasil).
They are flawed individuals who haven’t got a clue about adulting and still get into brawls over the silliest of matters, yet have an unspoken sense of affection for each other which is hard to ignore and wish to make things better for themselves.
It is an islet universe than Syam and Madhu take us to, in Kumbalangi Nights, and a beautiful one indeed. The layers attributed to each character in this universe that they’ve built is what makes the film so utterly grounded, situationally funny, and shockingly disturbing at the same time. The dialogues of the movie clearly portray how skilful a writer Syam Pushkaran is; he knows his characters and their surroundings inside out. Franky’s trophies, Bobby’s Bluetooth speakers, Saji’s smoke-free kitchen, and Boney’s moonwalk add unique textures. Flawed, clueless about adulting, they bicker but share an unspoken affection, aspiring for self-improvement. Shammy, on the other hand, is a mystery throughout. He carries the kind of smirk that comes across as innocent and affable at times and the absolute creepiest at others.
An uncanny masterstroke setting the story in ravishing rural Kochi where one household tries to get its familial foundation back together and the other ultimately crumbling into little fragments, I cannot imagine Kumbalangi Nights taking place anywhere else. Right from the use of fishing nets as a picnic bed for the lovers to the astonishingly charming moonlit nights, Kumbalangi is indeed its own character in the movie. The romantic angles in the movie have their share of cute ‘aww’ moments even when they stay completely in touch with everything that happens in the film.
Anna Ben’s character, Babymol, plays a pivotal role in propelling the storyline forward. She serves as the connecting link between two families – one visibly worn out and striving to mend itself, and the other seemingly stable but inching towards impending doom. Alongside her sister Simi (Grace Antony, who shines in a scene just before the climax) and friend Sumisha (Riya Saira), they fortuitously present the audience with sensible and memorable female characters. In a different film, Sathy’s character might not have even crossed anyone’s mind, but in Kumbalangi Nights, her role is just as crucial to the plot as the others.
There’s no shortage of praise for the men either – Shane adds a delightful dazzle to ‘freak machan’ Bobby; Soubin, in one of his career-best performances, proves he’s one of the finest character actors of our times when he portrays the good-for-nothing but overly emotional Saji; Sreenath Bhasi is admirable as the mute Boney; Mathew Thomas, as Franky, conveys the transition from sadness to happiness in the Napolean household pretty well. Fahadh Faasil, as we all know, is in a league of his own, and as Shammy, the man delivers nothing short of a stunner.
Believe me when I say that the climax has a fantastic surprise in store as well. I guess I can keep raving about Kumbalangi Nights till I see Syam Pushkaran come up with something even more brilliant; until then, this is the benchmark that Malayalam cinema needs to look up to. This is exactly how you tell an engaging story even when the plot is ridiculously simple. The people of Kumbalangi really do enjoy little things – like their fishy curry, their music, their little romantic moments, and of course, the virtue of humanity and the power of healing. These little (yet not-so-little) things make Kumbalangi Nights one of the best films in recent memory. Three cheers and two thumbs up!
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Writer by Profession, Wanderer by Passion.