Kunjiramayanam: Quirky, Nostalgic, Harmless Fun

Want to know if this is the film for you? Simple. Go watch the Kunjiramayanam trailer; it serves as a good first check, and one of the rare ones that effectively captures the mood of the film. And as far as I’ve observed, friends who didn’t like the trailer also ended up not liking the movie. 

Okay. Now that I have only those of you who’ve given the green signal: I’ll admit, it’s hard to break down a film like Kunjiramayanam that doesn’t take itself seriously. But then I realised that though the film looks easy, nothing about it probably was right from the scripting and characterization to getting performances to the right meter (it’s a very comic timing-reliant film). There was some effort behind the effortlessness it exudes, and this article is probably an acknowledgment of the same! 

PLOT

Kunjiramayanam is a tale of rivalry between Dubai Kunjiraman (Vineeth Sreenivasan) and his cousin Lalu (Dhyan Sreenivasan). But it’s also a tale of how Kunjiraman manages to “set a curse” on Desham (his village) each time he leaves for Dubai after a vacation. And again, it’s also a who-marries-whom saga, with an array of prospective grooms and brides including Sajitha (Srinda Arhan), Reshma (Sneha Unnikrishnan), Mallika (Arya Rohit), Thankamani (Rimi Tomy)  and Manoharan (Biju Menon) apart from the rival brothers. What “curses” are set on Desham? Who marries whom finally? I won’t divulge the details of any of the above plot-points because one, it may dampen the viewing experience, and two, the plot doesn’t matter here as much as the individual situations do. 

1. The Setting

The film opens with an introduction song that is basically just a montage of random villagers beaming at the camera. Though this has no relevance to the story whatsoever, this montage intrigues the viewer who has just set foot on Desham. It’s a fictional village that exists somewhere between yesterday and today, and possibly set someplace in north Kerala (though filmed in Palakkad, the slang has a hint of Malabar to it). Now Desham isn’t just a setting; it’s also a character in the film. In a majority of the frames, the setting participates in the storytelling and humor. Sometimes there’d be a group of villagers sitting in a corner and giving their commentary, and sometimes they’d just jump into the frame and add to the conversation. Either way, we’re entertained by their audacious one-liners. 

Desham isn’t just a land of fools. It’s also a land of superstition (this obsession for superstition becomes a central theme). The two core conflicts brought into the plot – alcoholism and arranged marriages – are juicy material for a spoof. So naturally, Director Basil Joseph weaves out what is essentially a satire on the typical judgmental, somewhat egoistic, superstitious Malayali. 

2. The Comedy

Here’s a film where everybody gets chances to score at comedy. There are no characters added specifically for comic relief because all the characters – young or old, male or female – are actively involved in getting you to laugh your ass off. Vineeth’s antics as the titular Kunjiraman reminds the viewer of vintage Sreenivasan, and the role of the insecure suitor that he has played so many times in the 80s. Nowadays, it’s so rare to find women characters getting memorable gags. And Srinda, in an extension of her role in 1983, pulls it off like a boss. Aju Varghese, Deepak Parambol, Dhyan Sreenivasan, Neeraj Madhav, Hareesh Kanaran – they’re all there, and they’re all great..but the real joy is watching Mamukkoya do an out-and-out comic role after a long time – probably after Vettam (2004) – as Well-Done Vasu. Basil ensures that the quirks of his characters and places begin with the names. Check out the names of the leading characters: Kunjiraman, Kuttan, Kanjoottan, Lalu, Sasi. Such innocence! Basil Joseph leverages his (probably innate) child-like innocence to create some weird laugh-out-loud moments with these characters. The brand of comedy is mostly clean and situational, with pinches of slapstick, dark and awkward humor. By the way, watch out for the backstories for why “Well-Done Vasu”  and “Mathrubhoomi Tailors” were named so. 

Random Trivia You Didn’t Ask For: Well-done Vasu is inspired by Basil’s own maternal grandfather who was called ‘Saakshal Kunjithomman’ for his stories of bravado featuring none other than himself!

3. Climax Feat. Biju Menon

If the film ends on a high note, it’s largely thanks to the entry of Manoharan, the groom-to-be of Thankamani. Interestingly, this subplot is an ode to yesteryear classic Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal where Mohanlal’s character Achutha Kurup (also a groom-to-be) is talked about throughout the film but makes an appearance only at the end. Basil effectively uses this ploy to wreak absolute chaos at the kalyana panthal. Two unprecedented twists, Biju Menon’s effortless timing and Mallika’s seemingly innocent confessions to her newly wedded husband are good enough to see the film through. 

4. The Technical Department

Dialogues by Deepu Pradeep are mostly funny. There are some jokes of the kind you’d consider “lame” if singled out, but as they say, the presentation of the jokes makes all the difference. This is one film where the technical team has worked closely with the scripting team to optimise their contribution to the comedy output. Vishnu Sharma does a brilliant job with the camera, sometimes lingering to capture the awkwardness of a situation (for eg, when softporn starts playing on the TV of a family who least sees it coming) and sometimes moving at a purposely slow rate to build suspense (the Police Uniform sequence with Sudheer Karamana is a riot). Instead of using the standard background instrument for comedy a.k.a keyboard, Justin Prabhakaran nadanises things by bringing in dollops of tabla, harmonium and sitar, and it works big time. The songs are also equally quirky; Salsa stands out for its picturization. The editing call by Appu Bhattathiri to start the film with the pre-climax shot, and have Manoharan give a voiceover gist of the proceedings thus far, helps generate curiosity. 

TO SUM IT UP..

Recently I was coming back home after a hectic day at work. En route, I was checking out the news. Just as the turbulent situation in Delhi was getting normal, Coronavirus was getting out of control. The media was feeding too much negativity fodder into my brain. I went home, took out my laptop, opened the “Filmz For Chillz” folder on the desktop and started watching Kunjiramayanam.  Because that’s what it is; a film that asks you to sit back, give those brains some rest, enter its wacky world and have some fun. And trust me, it’s not a simple feat, because a lot of the films that are made with the aim of “purely entertaining” (cough, Love Action Drama, cough) do not end up serving that purpose. Hmph.

I can’t claim that the film is underrated per se, because it was the box office winner of the Onam race in 2015. But this innocently-crafted, crafty piece needs a mention in the Best Comedies list of recent times. What do you think are the other films that could make it to this list? 

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