Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham movie released on November 12 on Disney+ Hotstar Multiplex. It was Nivin Pauly’s first release in over two years and looked like a very “OG Nivin Pauly film” at that – light, commercial and entertaining. There was a palpable excitement from not just fans of the actor but also general cinegoers who were getting tired of mediocre thrillers and feel-good (feel-so-good-you-jis-in-your-pants) films.
And when the film was released, it got fairly mixed reviews. I’d personally heard all sorts of things about the film on the first day – from “verum chali padam” to “LOL max from the first frame till the end”. Before the question of liking or disliking a film arises, I think it’s important to answer one question: What purpose does the film vow to serve?
Most films give their answers to this fundamental question through their promotional material. And the Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham movie team made their objective fairly clear: to chart an out-and-out mindless entertainer using elements of surreal and absurd humour.
The last frame of the teaser of Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham had a technical definition of surreal humour, which went:
Surreal humour is a form of humour predicated on deliberate violations of causal reasoning, producing events and behaviours that are obviously illogical and tend to involve bizarre juxtaposition, incongruity, non-sequiturs, irrational or absurd situations and expressions of nonsense.
I know this definition makes humour look like rocket science, but to be honest, it is more complicated than it seems. Pulling off humour, in general, is a difficult task. And pulling off humour of a very specific flavour becomes an even more daunting task, considering the limitations that come with it. So how close has Ratheesh Balakrishna Poduvaal come, in making a full-length surreal comedy?
Let’s go through those katti katti terms of the definition (each of them is, essentially, a tool to create absurdity) one by one and see how the film has addressed them.
Deliberate violations of causal reasoning
Over time, audiences have got conditioned to expect rationality and logic in films – so much that when a scene subverts this expectation, it becomes an incongruity. The final act of a humorous exchange, aka the punchline, resolves the incongruity produced by the premise of the joke, and this results in a feeling of mirth in general humour. In the case of absurd humour, the incongruity is almost unresolvable – the final act or punchline would be something absurd or illogical; something that would not be plausible in real life.
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For instance, when a clearly frustrated Joby (Vinay Forrt) chides at one of his incompetent employees and says “Ivane okke panikkedutha enne venam thallan”, the last thing we expect is a man from the staff pouncing on him, ready to obey his orders. But that’s exactly what happens – it is funny not because of the pouncing, but because we are conditioned not to expect the rhetoric to be taken literally.
Another word that needs to be emphasised here is “deliberate”. Any violation from rationality is purposefully done to serve the purpose of the genre. And so it’s absolutely fair to have Sura (Jaffer Idukki) meander the investigation at a critical juncture of the film and set off into a random 10-minute segue questioning the relevance of artists in society. (The absurdness of the segues reminded me of Fahad Faasil’s rants in Super Deluxe).
This involves placing two seemingly unrelated characters or entities beside each other to draw comparison or contrast.
The hotel portions in the Kanakam Kaamini Kalaham movie are filled with enjoyable instances of this juxtaposition – the film posters that exist in the various rooms of the hotel, become more relevant when characters enter their respective rooms. For instance, a poster of Prem Nazir’s Poi Mukhangal (which translates to False Faces) adorns the room of Pavithran (Nivin Pauly) – a padicha kallan who has discreet plans behind his wife’s back.
There is also a life-size cardboard cutout of Shalini the receptionist in the CCTV room, that doesn’t really know what it’s doing there. In some brilliantly blocked scenes, it leads the viewer to think that it is Shalini in the frame and not a piece of cardboard.
Another interesting use of juxtaposition comes when the audio of an unconnected call (“Ningal ippol vilikkunna number paridhikku purathaanu”) coincides with the visuals of Haripriya frantically searching her bags for the kammal, realising it is now probably “out of coverage area”.
Simply put, a non-sequitur is a random reply that does not logically follow the previous context in a conversation. It is one of the tools that writers use to generate randomness (which is essentially the root of most absurd humour).
When Haripriya (Grace Antony) rants about how her mom has had two heart attacks in life and how she’s going to be victim to it next, you expect the listener Sivakumar (Sudheesh) to say a few comforting words, or in the worst case, remain silent. But Sivakumar retorts: “Attack padarilla Priya! (Heart attacks aren’t contagious, Priya)”.
The film is filled with setup-punchline sets that fall under the non-sequitur category. Try spotting them if you chance upon the film!
As mentioned earlier, anything that creates an aberration from the usual forms an incongruity in people’s minds. It can be achieved in many ways. The scenes at the hotel lobby use the most commonly used methods – of placing characters in absurd settings and letting them loose into nonsensical manifestations.
Also, I noticed some fun anthropomorphism (i.e. animals having human characteristics) at play here. One of my favourite scenes involves a middle-aged couple – consisting of a chronic bachelor and a ‘lady without visiting card’ – complaining to the hotel manager that they are unable to sleep in their rooms because two ‘towel swans’ are chilling on their bed. Just….wow!
Expressions of nonsense
A film of this kind requires that the actors perform at a certain ‘dramatic pitch’. The exaggerated, and to some extent, irrelevant expressions – Manaf (Rajesh Madhavan) looking through the luggage carrier at Haripriya’s earrings, Joby laughing hysterically at Pavithran – are all preconceived to create an environment of absurdity. The energy peaks at the climax once the final showdown between Joby and Sura begins, and their manic expressions add to the physical comedy that accompanies the ‘fight’.
While we talk about expressions of nonsense, we can also include verbal expressions. There are multiple lines in the film that will stay memorable purely because of their innate meaninglessness (“Every roaring has each and opposite reaction!”, Pavithran says during his acting class.)
At a dialogue level, there has been an effort in crafting the right choice of words to make scenes weirder, either through repetition (“Sathyam paranja Sathyan sir pole…”) or alliteration (“..Grip illa, Graph illa”) or rhyme (“Njan Joby, Ith Dhobi, Thaazhe Lobby”). Mind you, these ‘rubbish dialogues’ have almost zero impact on the “story” and are added just to mess with the viewers’ heads.
Apart from these specific tropes, the film has the usual humour mechanisms at play too – such as running gags (Joby’s constant calls with his ‘darling’ fiance), callbacks (“Papercake inu entha vila?”), pop culture references (from Joker to The Shining to the director’s own Android Kunjappan), physical comedy as well as wordplay (‘Fine Apple juice’ is a joke for the ages!). These tools are seamlessly mixed with the absurd tropes and this makes it difficult for one to brand the film as a purely absurd comedy.
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And to be honest, there is a fair amount of logic in the main story; it is in the minute details and dialogues that Ratheesh manages to bring in the quirks. So overall, is this the best attempt at surreal humour? Definitely not. But for a start, it does a great job of acquainting our folks to this zone.
And yes, I did have my fair share of issues with the film (mainly, the over-repetition of some jokes and gags), but I personally had a ball while watching the film. I was grinning throughout, right from the nadakam-style opening credits – where a drunk narrator confidently announces Srijith Sreenivasan’s name as Vineeth Sreenivasan – to the post-credits scene. The silliness of it all, struck a chord with me as a viewer and I’m sure it did with a few of you as well.
The objective of this article was definitely not to justify the film’s failure to entertain you (if it has), but to make you think of the possibility that you went in expecting a different kind of movie. Do let me know your thoughts on this film’s humour below!
P.S: Maybe ‘Pavithran’ was a hat-tip to “Kallan Pavithran”? It does make sense, doesn’t it?
P.P.S: Drunk Jaffer Idukki, Hungry Sudheesh and Deadpan Rajesh Madhavan are a vibe. Hope to see more comic performances from these three!