Android Kunjappan Movie Review: A witty and competently made cautionary tale

Android Kunjappan Movie Review: A witty and competently made cautionary tale

This is one of those films whose synopsis can be described in one line but explores a myriad of conflicts, emotions, and themes
Rating:(4 / 5)

I went into Android Kunjappan expecting a certain kind of film and came out with something that was much, much more than what it appeared to be in the trailers. This is one of those films whose synopsis can be described in one line but explores a myriad of conflicts, emotions, and themes.

The film, to put it simply, is about the situations that arise from the introduction of a humanoid robot into an ordinary Kerala household. Having a small science fiction element is usually an excuse for Indian filmmakers to show off their command over the English language. There is usually a stereotypical scientist character throwing around technical jargon in a manner indigestible for the common folk. Thankfully, debutant Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval keeps his film free of all that. His film has the same grounded quality and small-town vibe of, say, Sudani from Nigeria or Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. Speaking of, a few actors from those films show up in this one too, for a considerable amount of time. Each supporting actor in the film has a purpose. They are not there just to fill up the frame. These characters are necessary to present some of the issues the film so eagerly wants to discuss. It's one of the reasons why it doesn't feel overstuffed despite packing a lot of emotions.

Director: Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval

Cast: Suraj Venjaramoodu, Soubin Shahir, Saiju Kurup, Kendy Zirdo

Suraj Venajramoodu and Soubin Shahir play a father, Bhaskaran, and his son, Subramaniam, respectively. Theirs is not an easy relationship. It's much more complicated than the father-son relationship in Sudani from Nigeria. Bhaskaran is a stubborn, narrow-minded old man -- the perfect epitome of an Indian parent who can't let their children stay away from them and so, makes every attempt to thwart their long-distance job dreams. He is like one of those parents who decided to have kids so that he wouldn't have to pay a home nurse in his old age. He is also a hypocrite who lectures Subramaniam on "doing things out of love and not because one is obliged to" but he has been very unsuccessful in expressing his love for his son.

Ratheesh takes sufficient time milking as much humour as possible out of the complications arising from Bhaskaran's initial struggles to get along with the robot. Android has some of the most ingeniously written dialogues in recent memory. The comedy in this film, which is not always the laugh out loud variety, benefits from the superb timing. Each pause, each glance, and each gesture has been skillfully calibrated to deliver the best output. I can't recall the last time that a Malayalam film carried so many witty lines. I saw a kid sitting next to me laughing at some of the scenes. You know a filmmaker has been successful when you see kids respond positively to a scene even if they don't fully understand what is being said or done.

Android allows Suraj to showcase his extraordinary range once again. Bhaskaran is such a fully realised character that our empathy is directed more towards Bhaskaran than the robot.  The latter can be quite funny at times but it's not supposed to be cute. A particularly funny remark about its costume from a background character had me laughing out loud. But we don't feel about it the same way we do, say, the little alien from E.T, because its potential to turn the tables on its masters is teased in a title credits sequence. You expect the whole film to be about Bhaskaran's attempts to warm up to a machine but that problem is solved pretty quickly. It's what happens after that that the film is really all about. Bhaskaran is initially dismissive of technology the same way he is dismissive of those belonging to lower castes. I'm sure that there is at least one older relative in our family like that -- someone who slowly becomes addicted to technology once they learn that it helps them keep loneliness at bay. Bhaskaran has lost faith in humanity and eventually begins to trust machines more than human beings because he feels you can't tell the difference anymore, and that he'd rather be in the care of a piece of metal that can stop functioning any day without warning.

This is a film where every actor is in fine form, especially Soubin and Saiju Kurup. But it's Suraj who is the heart and soul. From the brilliantly comical Dasamoolam Damu in Chattambinadu to a 60-year-old man, the actor has come a long way. To me, he is this generation's Thilakan when it comes to versatility. There were multiple occasions in the film where Bhaskaran reminded me of some of Thilakan's most memorable performances. Bhaskaran has a little bit of the characters Thilakan played in Spadikam, Narasimham, Kilukkam, and Perumthachan. I would even say that there is a little bit of Mohanlal's character from Pavithram in him.

When Bhaskaran's obsession and attachment to the machine become hard to tame, there is a gradual shift in the film's tone and, eventually, it attains a level of poignancy that was last seen in the earlier films of Priyadarshan and Sibi Malayil. Just when you think the film is going in a particular direction, Ratheesh defies our expectations and takes us towards an unpredictably bittersweet climax which may or may not work some. I found the resolution quite effective and sufficiently haunting. The overall effect is that of watching a live-action Pixar film. Android Kunjappan is one of the best films of the year. Go for it, and take everyone from your family with you.

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