Kumbalangi Nights Review: A beautifully realised, benchmark-setting film
This is one of those brilliantly written, once-in-a-blue-moon films that scores in every department
In the intro scene of Fahadh Faasil's character Shammi, we see him lovingly looking at himself in the mirror, and saying, "Raymond - The Complete Man". In fact, he is so in love with himself that I'm sure his wife doesn't get the same attention. There is not a single scene where he is not neatly dressed and well-groomed. At one point, Soubin Shahir's character Shaji wonders, "Why is he dressed up like that in the middle of the night?"
Director: Madhu C Narayanan
Cast: Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Fahadh Faasil, Anna Ben
What makes a 'complete man'? Or, rather, what makes a man complete? Writer Syam Pushkaran first asked these questions in his debut work Maheshinte Prathikaram and a year later in Mayanadhi (which he co-wrote). In Kumbalangi Nights, these questions are more prominent than they were in those films. Once again, he challenges the conventional ideas of masculinity, and, in doing so, completely deconstructs it. Each male character sees himself as the hero of his own story.
On one side, there is the antagonistic Shammi, who is blessed with good looks and a wife. But he is also extremely narrow-minded and, well, a complete psycho. And on the other side, we have Shaji and his three brothers who have their own skewed view of masculinity. They sometimes accuse each other of showing off, and occasionally get into violent scuffles. In their small box-like home, they have their own invisible boxes in which they have cocooned themselves. They are not making any progress; they're first-class slackers.
Though the film is set in a small fishing village called Kumbalangi, its ideas are contemporary and universal. Its characters -- minus Shammi -- have a liberal outlook. Bobby falls in love with a Hindu girl Babymol (Anna Ben in an impressive debut) who happens to be the younger sister of Shammi's wife. Though open-minded when it comes to love and sex, their regressive surroundings stand in the way. At one point, Sreenath Bhasi's character brings home an African-American girl. And Soubin's character -- well, why don't you find out yourself?
Unlike some of the recent Malayalam films, Kumbalangi Nights is not being liberal just for the sake for it -- it doesn't shove its progressive ideas down our throats. It doesn't preach; it simply shows. As someone for whom subtlety has always been a strong suit, Syam doesn't use his characters as mouthpieces for currently trending 'woke' topics. Never once does his characters' reactions to their situations seem artificial. There is a natural progression in their story arcs.
Shyju Khalid, who shot Ee Ma Yau, is also the cinematographer of this one. He has such a good grasp of the material and knows exactly what kind of mood is demanded of a particular scene. It's not every day that you see a cinematographer accomplish that. Nature always plays a big part in Shyju's vibrant photography, and there are a lot of moments in this film that stand out. And Sushin Shyam's music sounds much better when accompanied by these visuals. Watch out for a particularly romantic moment whose emotions are elevated by the music.
From the quality of the result on the screen, it is evident that this is a script that was developed carefully and patiently. I hear it was written over the course of a year, with each scene polished and each performance fine-tuned until everything was working to their maximum capacity. There is not a false note in any of the actors' performances. As Shaji, Soubin delivers arguably his finest and most layered performance to date. He can alternate between serious and funny, and sometimes displays that rare ability to make us laugh and cry in the same scene. And do I have to talk about Fahadh? The man keeps surprising us with every film. Shammi is the sort of character you avoid when you see him coming from a mile away. It's a deliciously wicked performance.
Kumbalangi Nights is one of those brilliantly written, once-in-a-blue-moon films that scores in every department. I was so overwhelmed by it that if it were a person, I would give it a hug. I experienced the same with last year's Lijo Jose Pellissery's Ee Ma Yau and with Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum the year before that. These films have raised the bar so high that everything else looks mediocre in comparison.