So a while back, I wrote an article about how Malayalam cinema, for a long time, have not had excellent horror movies. In the article, my gripe with the horror movie template Malayalam movies have followed was pretty evident. Essentially, my thesis was that since Manichitrathazhu blended horror and comedy so well, it became a benchmark. And Malayalam movies have been trying to replicate it ever since.
I badly wanted a horror movie that stayed true to the genre. Of course, we started getting self-serious movies which I’m not gonna name, and let’s face it, Balarama cave in Veegaland is slightly scarier than that.
The only other movie that has set a benchmark in Malayalam Horror of late has been Bhoothakaalam – which successfully blended mental illness, trauma, and death to concoct a superbly crafted horror thriller.
But now, with Romancham, we have delved back into the blend of horror and comedy, and man, I did not expect to love it as much as I did.
It was a delightfully cathartic experience watching a movie that engrossed its audience so well. You can see almost every visual gag landing, every action and reaction being welcomed with a burst of uproarious laughter.
Once we were done watching Romancham, many of us encouraged others to watch the movie. We realised that for a horror comedy, it’s very, very challenging for us to explain its humour to others. This is because so much was situational and based on the actors’ performances.
I remember a smile plastered on our faces throughout the movie as we waited for the next big moment to drop.
And that’s when the underrated genius of the movie hit me. Most of the comedy sequences in the movie follow the template of a horror genre jumpscare scene. Hold on, bear with me. Let me explain.
There are two kinds of jumpscares. One where it comes out of nowhere, and maybe you jump slightly and let out an audible gasp. And then there’s the second kind, where you’re aware of the inevitable jumpscare scare that will pop up while watching a horror movie. Your mind is prepared for it. With years of movie-watching experience, you can see the set-up coming from a mile away. The camera angles and the creepy music score create an eerie atmosphere. The performer draws you in, and you are suddenly aware of your gut and your anticipation for the jumpscare peaks, and then the jumpscare occurs. You let out a small sigh of relief, and your breathing slowly returns to normal, not realising that the anticipation for the jumpscare was more anxiety-inducing than the jumpscare itself.
This is precisely how Romancham‘s comedy scenes work.
Within the first 15-20 minutes, the movie successfully sets the tone and characters, and after that, you can slowly see the set-up/punchline coming. Within the first 15 minutes, for instance, we witness Jibi screwing up the volleyball. Next scene, we see Niroop picking up a rather large stone and setting it up for a game of “eru panth” in front of Jibi with a slightly sinister smile. We, as the audience, realise that, yes, Jibi will be the “vetta mrugam”. We cut to a scene with the rest of the gang stoning him mercilessly. A lesser writer or director would have concluded the scene here because they would think they had extracted all the laughter from the situation. But Jithu Madhavan adds one more scene – Jibi walking out shirtless with a t-shirt in his hand – tells Niroop “Ithrekk vendaayirunnu” – and turns around, exposing his back before donning his tee. We see all the bruises on him, adding a new set of laughter because we were anticipating the scene.
This is one of the less spoiler comedy scenes I decided to ruin by dissecting. But I want to reiterate that they have followed this template religiously for almost all the best scenes in the movie. Be it with the mode of repetition with all the Sinu-related gags or the hilarious use of the rule of threes in Chemban Vinod’s cameo. In Malayalam cinema, this format is relatively unexplored.
For a long time, Manichitrathazhu was considered the perfect combination of horror and comedy (vibing more towards horror & drama than comedy), but most of the humour came through dialogue or situations. There was rarely that anticipation-induced reaction from the audience.
And for all the horror comedies that came after – the less said, the better. Horror and comedy scenes usually felt like two different movies, and it was often difficult to figure out which was which.
Many compared Romancham to Adi Kapyare Kootamani during the initial days of release (probably because of the promise of a sequel at the end of it) – but I feel that’s an unfair comparison. AKK is primarily a comedy movie with a light horror element almost tacked on at the end of it.
I do not know how the sequel to Romancham would pan out or if it would be at least half as good as this one. But for now, I would proclaim that Romancham has set a benchmark for the horror-comedy genre in Malayalam cinema.