An unfinished house. That is the image we get as the movie begins and that image is enough to put across to the viewers the stories of the pain and struggle of the people within.
In this case it is the house of the late Napolean’s four sons, situated in a small village in Ernakulam. We are first introduced to the youngest of the lot, Frankie (Mathew Thomas) who makes it clear about how ashamed he feels about his house that he has to lie in order to keep his classmates from visiting his place. In his words, ‘the worst house of the entire Panchayat!’
The oldest of this rather dysfunctional household is Saji (Soubin Shahir) who is content freewheeling on the hard earned money of a Tamilian he once had helped. Then you have the mute one, Bonny (Srinath Bhasi), who stays away from the squabbles of the house and would rather spend the time with his close bunch of friends. And the last of the lot is Bobby, played by Shane Nigam, who is a total loafer who cannot put the effort into anything. He runs away from anything that is described as a ‘job’. Even when asked if he is into drugs, his reply is ‘those things make you think. We cannot do all hat. We are free-birds’.
Simultaneously, we also get a peek into yet another household- that of Baby (Anna Ben) who works as a tourist guide at one of the nearby resorts. Her sister (Grace) has just married and we are introduced to her husband- Shammi (a brilliant Fahadh Fasil) who in his introductory shot itself looks to the mirror, setting his bold black moustache and announcing to himself, ‘Raymond- the complete man!’.
Though we do not get to know much of his past, we can sense the misogynistic and conservative upbringing of his. Even before he is introduced, there is his brother who gets visibly offended on being offered a lift on a bike, rode by a woman. With his father in law having passed away, Shammi believes he has a firm role to play as the ‘man of the house’. Truth be told, he believes he is the rightful hero of his tale. ‘Shammi, hero aada, hero’ utters Fahadh in one of the best lines from the film.
And in most cases, he would have been. But this time, Shammi is not the hero.
For the heroes of the stories are the women that walk into the lives of these men. They find a good human being even in the most laggard of these men. They see the beauty even in the most incomplete and unkempt of places. They bring hope to even those who seemingly have lost all of it. They also bring forth courage at situations where it really is called for. They turn out to be the true knights of this Kumbalangi village.
Hats off once again to Shyam Pushkaran. The writer has been giving us gems after another and here is yet another spectacular example of what magic even simplistic of writings can create on celluloid. Placing realistic characters in equally relatable settings, dipped with the local milieu turns to a feast for the viewers. And they are not the perfectly white and black characters that we used to. The characters are as flawed as you and me.
Even the villain of this enterprise, Shammi is not entirely wrong. He has a point when he questions the qualifications that the wayward Bobby possess to marry his sister in law. He is on point when he states that the chap cannot even afford to pay for his own shave at the barbershop. In another movie, he very well might have been the hero. Here we are asked to laugh at the moustache twirling man, rooted in misogyny and patriarchal conservatism.
Director Madhu C Narayanan could not have asked for a better debut. Every scene and every character come alive, even the short scene that the sons share with the mother. Joining hand in hand with the writer and the cinematographer Shyju Khalid, they bring such warmth and feel good factor to the proceedings. Commendable is how none of this ever seem forced into the narrative but flows in with a natural ease.
Speaking of flowing in, the same can be said about the songs in the movie. Sushin Shyam’s music blends in well with the setting and never feels out of place. Even when an English track forms part of the it. The theme music is something that will stick to you head much after the movie.
And the performances. How captivating are they? Shane Nigam is turning into a remarkable lead man who certainly have the charms and the acting chops. Sreenath Bhasi plays with limitations but makes his presence felt. Debutant Anna Ben was dazzling from the word go and looked exceptionally confident and impressive for a newcomer. Other performers like Mathew, Jasmine Metevier and Grace Antony also makes their presence felt. Even the actors who play Bobby and Baby’s friends make a lasting impression. Dileesh Pothan , also one of the producers of the movie, chips in a cameo appearance.
Fahadh Fasil has repeatedly been challenging himself and he seem to not surprise himself and the audience with his choice of roles and how he aces them. This time, as a villain, he absolutely steals the frames whenever he appears with his eccentric mannerisms, and at times, even with merely his looks. One runs out of adjectives with each passing performance of his.
And last but not the least, Soubin Shahir. From a comedian, he made leaps as a lead man in last year’s runaway success story Sudani From Nigeria. But with this one, he has shown us what a amazing actor he is. He owned the role of Saji completely. Be it when he laughs in joy on Bobby calling him ‘chetta (Brother), or when in his drunk scene with Ramesh Thilak and eventual reaction to the bitter truth, or the scene where he breaks down in front of the doctor. Such a damn fine performance capturing all the complexities of the character.
This year is merely a month and a few days old, and we already have a gem of a film that would feature in the year end top lists (…that is if not the best). Rarely do we have movies approached with such simplicity, sincerity and comes out with such beautiful results. But films from Kerala are managing to hit that sweet spot with ease and finesse. The Napolean brothers will find a place a heart in all moviegoers. And so will Fahadh’s Shammi , one that will be etched in our memories for years to come.
So think no further, do check out this house in the wastelands of Kumbalangi. One where exists no boundaries of caste, color, religion or nation. It shows that even the most incomplete of homes can feel complete when it is drenched in love, acceptance and brotherhood. An absolute must-watch!
KUMBALANGA NIGHTS (Malayalam, 2019)
cast: Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi, Anna Ben, Mathew Thomas, Grace Antony and Fahadh Faasil
Directed by Madhu C Narayanan
Written by Shyam Pushkaran
Produced by Fahadh Fasil and Friends/ Working Class Hero