The Patriarchal whimsical inside Shammy that turns into an outrageous catastrophe for the love birds, Bobby and Boby. Saji’s psychological repatriation that con-joints the dysfunctional family to a House of Humanity. One year since the release of Kumbalangi Nights. The most heartwarming Malayalam film of this decade with Sudani From Nigeria, both these films incidentally emphasises on ‘Humanity’, which is the most beautiful emotion that’s sustaining our Planet. Syam Pushkaran once took a stand – not to cast Alacier (A close friend of his and a Me too accused) in his subsequent ventures, saying, ‘Souhridham thenga aanu, manusvatham aanu ellam‘ Friendship is balls, Humanity is everything! Kumbalangi Nights, has this politics of the writer, all over it.
The leading men of Kumbalangi Nights are Shammy (Fahad Fazil) and Saji (Soubin Shahir). Two completely contrasting characters. Shammy enjoys pride in his cleanly kept moustache; which he thinks is an emblem for his masculinity. Whereas Saji has a full beard not cared about. When Simi’s (Shammy’s spouse) maternal uncle: who likes cooking and has a working wife abroad compares Shammy with himself, his Patriarchy gets hurt. He spurns him in no second. On the other hand, when Bobby spews venom on his Mother for not coming home to help them, it’s Saji who resists him and roots for the women. Saji is also the cook of his house.
Kumbalangi Nights has intricately layered writing from Syam Pushkaran and minimalistic pulpy filmmaking that only tends to elevate it by Madhu C Narayanan, even one-scene / one-manoeuvre doesn’t feel out of place. Saji is a matriarchal person while Shammy: an out-and-out Patriarch. The psychiatric attribute of Kumbalangi Nights is also evident in their character arcs. Shammy’s psyche triggers as Bobby and Baby’s relationship headway. While, Saji’s fragility is at its peak of destruction, after his suicidal attempts turn into a catastrophe for his friend (A Tamilian clothes presser named Murugan, which is an interesting nod to the character played by Mammootty in Kamal’s Karutha Pakshikal). The Latter aids mental health, he asks his younger brother Frankie to take him to a psychiatrist. Shammy’s manliness (what he believes) only makes him further go insane. The chilling climax showdown is a triumph of humanity over patriarchy. It literalises the conceptual clarity of the film, without breaking it’s chain of events.
In one of the scenes, Shammy shows his moral policing standards by peeping into Nylah’s (played by Jasmine Mètivier) room where he finds Bonnie (Sreenath Bhasi). He is obsessed, and knocks on the front door, orders them rudely to get out. Bonnie is mute. When Shammy asks how’d you trick her! Bonnie in sign language replies; Personality! It’s not toxic masculinity. Usually in films, a dark or not-so-faired person will be the one who hangs out with the protagonist and the character might be only churn-out as a sidekick for comedy. Here in Kumbalangi Nights, we get a buddy who also has a girlfriend who regards him saying; Sidennu nokkiya Vinayakante cut alle. It breaks conventions of this sort, and see how lovely is the writing which does not tend to patronize the tone. Nylah, who’s Bonnie’s romantic interest is also a Black African American. Again, see the palpable tranquility in writing without an ounce of racism.
Syam Pushkaran’s writing has a unique sarcasm too. In Maheshinte Prathikaram, a film that made the concept of masculinity a caricature, he trolls Mohanlal’s Alpha Male heroes of the highest order. Here in a scene when Bobby finds out Baby is attracted to him, he says to his friend “Veenennanallo thonnanath“! His reply is “Enna machaan Mammootty kalichathu kalayanda ingane maintain cheyth pokko!” Mammootty is also known for his Patriarchal hot-tempered roles and glorified hyper masculine romantic heroes. We’ve seen this in films like Hitler, Valyettan, Mazhayethum Munpe, Megham etc etc and etc. Megham had an interesting subversion though!
When Bobby asks for a kiss from Baby in a cinema hall the movie playing there is Arjun Reddy. A film that was a toxic masculinity celebration of the decade. A film that showed no regard to the word ‘consent’. A film that was further remade in Hindi as Kabir Singh and ought to gross massive numbers. Howbeit, in this scene Bobby outbursts saying I’m a Man, he too is inhibited by quasi-toxic masculinity. See how the toxicity goes haywire here with a small trigger. It’s also explicit from the scene where the family dynamics of these guys are revealed, when Saji wept a pool of tears Bobby sheds one single drop. This is how conventional masculinity attributes are infiltered in the young generation. Kumbalangi nights shows that Men are also vulnerable human beings and underlines that it’s no problem in seeking help at uneven situations.
Kumbalangi Nights in a nutshell, is an unabashed ode to Humanity and an obvious abash to Patriarchy, the fishing net is a metaphor that is also a homage to the saving champs at the times of devastating Kerala Floods – The Fisherman. So is the romance track of the film. The first glimpses of attraction Baby gets in Bobby, is highlighted with the romantic background score of Sushin Shyam, the instance is Bobby throwing a fishing net. Nylah’s fascination towards Bonnie starts when she sees him laying the net and performing a moonwalk. Napoleon’s house has no door, it is also figurative when we soon see Saji bringing the widower of his friend and Bonnie – his black girlfriend. These two, in different ways are an outcast of the same Patriarchal system, finding shelter inside the lifeblood of Humanity.
The writer might have also had lucid influences of how Padmarajan and Stanley Kubrik seemed to treat toxic masculine characters. In Koodevide, Mammootty plays a hyper masculine army officer who is extremely possessive to his love interest (Suhasini). Lalu Alex in Nombarathi Poovu is almost akin. They both own a bullet, and so does Shammy. Both the films conclude their character arcs with disastrous endings which causes collateral deaths. Kubrick’s The Shining, is a multi-layered film which can also be interpreted by deeming Jack as the toxic man, he was once a full time alcoholic and a rude Father – which is mentioned in the film by his wife. However, when the changed man finds solitude in the Overlook Hotel his real self bursts out and the repercussions are chilling.
Shammy gets a climax similar to Jack. It’s the same extinguishment of toxic masculinity with Horror overtones. His character arc develops to an ambiguous state. Toxic masculinity is treated as madness in all the above films. Pushkaran too does the same with Kumbalangi Nights. Which is the only place where the writing unintentionally falters with political correctness, demonising mental health using the gender justice platform. The idea was perhaps, to show parallels between the two contrasting protagonists which I’ve discussed above. Shammy rants lines like, Nee Onnum Aanungale kandittilleda? You guys have not met real men? But eventually what makes his fall in the trap is Saji’s verbal tweak on his manhood saying, Vaada Aananenkil Vaada: Come, catch us if you’re a man. The iconic one-liner from the climax is Shammy Hero Aada Hero! Yes, in an industry that celebrated toxic masculinity using Alpha Male Heroes. Shammies and Induchoodans and Rajan Zakaria’s will continue to be Heroes only. We can hope for a thousands of Kumbalangi Nights to subvert the patriarchal system.
CA Student who’s enthusiastic about films.