Romancham Movie Review: Rewarding horror-comedy that's high on the laughs
Romancham is at its funniest when it explores the idiosyncrasies of its well-sketched characters
Vividity is a strong suit of director Jithu Madhavan's debut feature, Romancham. It's a mark of the detailing that went into the home of the film's central characters. It's also a mark of the character sketches. After I came out of the movie, it's not the horror aspects that I remember the most, but the faces of these characters and their perfectly timed interactions. They don't give the impression of 'actors' who met for the first time; they convey the camaraderie of guys who have known each other for the longest time and have been sharing a home for years. The level of detailing is such that you could almost smell their home. Maybe one of these men isn't into taking baths that often. When another character looks at the condition of their home after a night of partying and wonders aloud if it's a pigsty, you nod your head in agreement. It does look like one until the same man, Nirup, cleans it up.
Director: Jithu Madhavan
Cast: Soubin Shahir, Sajin Gopu, Siju Sunny, Arjun Ashokan
The film begins with Soubin Shahir's character recollecting a story. Although it starts with him and proceeds through his point-of-view, he isn't really what you call the 'main character'. That label fits all the seven men who live under the same roof, starting with Nirup (Sajin Gopu, from Churuli and Jan-e-Man), the bossman of the pack. He has the poise and stature of a man commanding an army. But he also reveals a vulnerable side, at the expense of which we occasionally get some laughs. It's the little things -- like someone mistakenly calling him 'Nirodh' or how, in another instance, his softer side gets exposed when he is talking to his parents, something which he doesn't want his housemates to know. I describe this sketch of Nirup because the makers have given all the other characters the same degree of attention. Everyone has their share of distinct quirks and mannerisms that make them different from others. For example, there is a whole gag involving a 'Hans' consumer and how Nirup is trying to 'reform' him. It's almost like an implicit tobacco warning from the film.
Romancham is at its funniest when it explores the idiosyncrasies of these characters, particularly after Soubin's character introduces them to the idea of summoning ghosts through an OUIJA board, and you get to see how they react to this newfound supernatural phenomenon. The admirable quality of all these actors -- some of whom are fresh faces -- is that they don't always have to say anything to make you laugh. There were multiple instances in the film where audience members, including yours truly, were cracking up at how these characters looked at each other or how they behaved when they were by themselves or sharing the same frame. One can't help but recall classics like In Harihar Nagar, Godfather, or Ramji Rao Speaking. The last time a Malayalam film came this close to creating that kind of 'classic' male-male bonding on screen was Jan-e-Man.
For obvious reasons, I'm not going to write about every little detail, but suffice it to say that the film gets to have a lot of fun with the material. It gives a fresh twist to the horror-comedy genre. The presence of a spirit is naturally supposed to elicit some fear, but Romancham is not interested in making us supremely uncomfortable. Its interest lies in extracting comedy from scenarios that terrify those living in the house but are comical to distant observers like us. At one point, Chemban Vinod Jose makes a hilarious cameo.
That said, it doesn't entirely leave out the scare factor, but it does it in a way that doesn't make you want to hide like Mr Bean in that horror movie episode. And having a composer like Sushin Shyam, who is coming up with some really cool stuff these days, helps contribute to the overall hip vibe the film is going for, even when the characters are not.
If you suspect the entire film revolves around the OUIJA board, fret not; you'll be surprised at the direction the film takes after the interval. When Arjun Ashokan's character enters the picture, Romancham becomes a different kind of movie -- sort of like a second chapter whose connection to the pre-interval portions only becomes more evident by the time we get to the third act, the conclusion of which is followed by the promise of a sequel. And this character's eccentricity makes an admirably significant contribution to the laughs department.
Since the first part shows signs of a big success judging by the footfalls in theatres during the weekend, I expect the sequel to be a sure thing. Let's hope the makers spring more surprises in that one.