I watched Kumbalangi Nights at the theatre when it was released. I remember being moved by every frame, every character arc, and every note of the soothing lullabies in the movie. For a while, I was one among the residents of the unfinished Napoleon household and learned how love, or the lack of it, affects them.
And I’ve been waiting for it come online since then. I wanted to watch this masterpiece from the comfort of my home, for there are so many things that make this movie a visual treat.
Shyju Khalid has done a fantastic job of keeping the messy life stories of four brothers on the backdrop of a beautiful landscape. The lightings, the angles were all perfect. You have to applaud the fact that Shyju Khalid is one of the few DPs in Malayalam who prefer to shoot nights as naturally as he can. And how can you have a movie called Kumbalangi Nights without night shots? The night shots are absolutely mesmerising and make you want to go to Kumbalangi right-away.
With subtle but crisp cuts, Saiju Sreedharan gives the movie the rhythm that it requires. And the songs and score by Sushin Syam compliment it perfectly. I like how the modern Malayalam cinema incorporates music from other cultures. Malayalis, with our global reach, listen to all genres after all. And the music from Kumbalangi Nights is just haunting. The song “Cherathukal” is on loop as I’m writing this.
Madhu Narayanan makes a strong directorial debut with Kumbalangi Nights, and it is clear that he poured his heart and soul to this project. And then there is the story.
I love how Shyam Pushkar was able to fit so much into two and a half hours. With this seemingly simple story about four brothers and exploration of their lives, he manages to shed light on gender dynamics, patriarchy, love, mental health, isolation, abandonment, societal stigma and so much more!
But a story is only as good as the acting. And Kumbalangi Nights has some great acting.
As you know, Kumbalangi Nights does not have just one standout performance. All the actors have done an impressive job of playing their characters expertly. They kept their real-life personas in check and threaded unfamiliar lives as earnestly as they could. But if you asked me who I liked the most, I’d have to say it’s a tie between 4 people – Shane Nigam as Bobby, Anna Ben as Baby, Soubin Shahir as Saji, and Fahadh Fazil as Shammi.
Shane Nigam plays against his ‘type’. Bobby is a happy go lucky character who is the cause for the central conflict of the film. You might even say that it is his story arc that is portrayed in the movie. He starts out as someone shying away from responsibilities, turns into someone who is ashamed of his present, and then finally embraces reality and learns to live with it.
Anna Ben, the debutante, effortlessly slid into the role and delivers some of the most memorable lines in the movie. She effortlessly plays the independent woman that Baby is and can be said to be the personification of the modern Malayali woman. Though it is not explicitly shown in the movie, it looks like she was the breadwinner for the family until Shammi stepped in. A polar opposite of Bobby who does not wish to have a ‘job’. But opposite poles attract and hence, we have the central spine of Kumbalangi Nights.
But let’s not get lost in the romance. There is another ‘polar opposite’ duo who make this movie an absolute treat to watch.
I’m assuming that you’ve watched the movie. If you haven’t, stop reading now because I’m going to give out some major spoilers!
Fahad’s portrayal of Shammy is just mind-blowing. Now that you know that he’s a bit of a psycho, you see how Fahad played it expertly. His body language, right from the start, makes you feel eerie and you know there’s something wrong about him. I know you felt it the first time too, but watching the movie again makes you appreciate the effort he has put in and you appreciate his performance a lot more.
Soubin wowed us with his beautiful portrayal as Majeed in Sudani from Nigeria, and but Saji required him to get out of his comfort zone. And boy has he delivered a great performance. Saji starts out like his brother Bobby, killing time and barely managing to survive. But after the death of his friend (Murugan, played by Ramesh Thilak), Saji has a mental breakdown and seeks professional help. This, I believe is what makes Saji and Shammi polar opposites.
Throughout the movie, Shammy’s peculiar nature is hinted at by his friend Shyju. But it is shoved under the carpet as his eccentricity. But Saji, on the other hand, realises that he needs help and reaches out to Frankie.
But by the end of the movie, Saji ends up becoming the mother of the household, cooking and care for the rest of them. Shammy ends up losing control and becoming everything but the “hero” of the story. But Saji’s character arc makes him the hero of the story in equal parts with Bobby for he went through the “hero’s journey” too.
Kumbalangi Nights is a subtle, but lucid and vivid poem about abandonment and redemption of human lives. It deals with the relevance of love within the family, the savagery of patriarchy that leaves the power with an outsider to dominate, and the power of humanity, compassion and empathy are vividly depicted by both the director Madhu Narayanan and writer Syam Pushakaran.
The movie is an extremely detailed and authentic portrayal of human lives in the muddy island and the surrounding nature that’s an extension of their lives, their very being. There are several characters that move you; that makes you think and add to the overall milieu of the story. The sense of helplessness and loss that the movie conveys is sometimes heartbreaking. But what you are left with, is this beautiful little thought about love and what it can do to people.