Kumbalangi Nights (2019) Malayalam Movie Review – Veeyen

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‘Kumbalangi Nights’ is much more than an account of four brothers on a frenzied quest to find themselves and each other. Drenched in a matchless mix of human emotions that range from hilarity to hopelessness, it’s a superb film that drives you into raptures and which is infused with figurative undertones, structures and symbols that hold a striking mirror to the times that we live in.


Debutante director Madhu C Narayanan mounts his artful cinematic canvas on the exquisite islet of Kumbalangi, where the nights are as bewitching as the days; where the waves that obstinately keep lashing against the shores have a few legends of their own to tell. Tagging us along on an evocative journey of self-discovery of four brothers, ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ is an enlightening piece of cinema that bequeaths us with its revelatory rewards all along the way.

The protagonists of ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ are all deliriously lost, and have comfortably sheathed themselves deep inside a mantle of lethargy , where they idle away their time, jabbing at each other and finding faults with the world that has shut them out of its cosy indoors long back, least impressed by the incidents that have added up to their decrepit lives.  Abandoned and terribly forlorn, the four brothers find themselves adrift on the waters, like autumn leaves blown down by an insistent breeze, and which thereon decide to pointlessly float across to destinations unseen and unknown.


Saji (Soubin Shahir), the eldest of the four, who claims to run a partnership business with Murugan (Ramesh Tilak) who  manages a very modest mobile ironing venture, has a perpetual, nonchalant frown on his face that switches over to expressions of indifference and aggression, as the immediate situation demands. He is constantly engaged in fisticuffs with his younger brother Bobby (Shane Nigam), who has developed an extreme aversion towards the concept of working to earn a livelihood, and therefore whiles away the daylight hours, lying on his back on the banks of the river, staring at the vast expanse of blue above.

There is Boney (Sreenath Bhasi) too, who has kept away from the family, ever since he learned that there is nothing that holds them together, apart from the never ending squabbles and the oodles of resentment that hang around in the air. This does not however keep him away from the youngest of the lot whom he holds closest to his heart – Franky (Mathew Thomas) – who, snuggled upon a bunk bed on his school hostel in the opening frame, blatantly lies to his friends when they come up with an idea of paying him a visit during the vacation, that everyone back home is down with chicken pox and that a stopover hence, would be far from advisable.

Back home for the vacation, we get to see a joyful Franky take to cooking with a passion, in a rundown house sans a door, and the bareness where a door might have been, opening out onto a yard and the river that silently slithers beyond. As the night sets in, Saji and Bobby arrive, and an inevitable argument follows, with Franky remaining a mute spectator to the fight that ensues. Staying clear of the entire clamour, the river unwinds itself slowly down and Boney who had made halfway home on a canoe, steers the boat around and silently leaves.

It remains that each one of these four men has been sketched to flawlessness, and merits a character study of his own. It takes a tremendous tragedy of an event for Saji to get his senses on the track yet again, and thereon, he keeps his eyes open towards the light. Banging his head against a post in guilt for a misfortune that he has unknowingly been the cause of, he wearingly walks in regret towards a house, that is a far cry from the tangled mess that he had spent the better part of his life in. He inertly pauses for a moment, watching a gleeful butterfly settle down on a marigold flower, and the bougainvillea creeper that has almost vengefully blossomed all over the tiled roof, unleashing a riot of pink all over.


Bobby is flummoxed when Baby (Anna Ben) confesses that she has had a crush on him ever since school, and gives in to her love pleas in no time. Dusting himself up from the smooth fluffiness of the fishing nets where he indolently lies stretched out most of the time, he decides to turn over a new leaf, and lands himself a job at a fishery freezer. Turning increasingly claustrophobic in the icy environs, he plugs his headphones in and desperately slogs away, until he cannot take it anymore. Crestfallen, he admits to Baby that he had strenuously tried and miserably failed, and implores her to go find someone else to spend her life with.

There is a delight in the stark silence that enshrouds Boney, and the hundred unspoken words that dart around in the flicker of his eyes. And there is the glint of mischief that transforms into a fierce charisma, that bout of flirtation that makes him break into a moonwalk, even as he busies himself sorting out the nets, when from the corner of his eye he catches a girl tourist having a go at him with her camera. He is also the most emotionally sane one around, and the kind of astute observation that has gone into the etching of this adorable young man is laudable, to say the least.

And there is Franky, who remains a riddle of sorts for the most part, and his straight-faced visage finally breaks out into an endearing smile when Boney drops in with Nylah  (Jasmine Metivier). He fawns over the foreign woman, rapt in attention, and blushes a further shade of brown when she admits that she is dating his brother. The ruefulness that characterises his initial self gently gives way to hope and cheerfulness, as he watches his elder brothers gradually get their games right, and the signs of a sunny day leisurely appearing over the horizon after a terribly drawn out stint of rain.


It is onto this fragmented family portrait that the filmmaker plants his one-of-a-kind antagonist – Shammy (Fahadh Faasil) – an inexplicable mystery of a man who has just moved into the village, post his marriage to Simi (Grace Antony). The boys of Kumbalangi develop an instant dislike to him, as he reprimands them from playing football near his place, and Simi grows increasingly mystified with the wide grin that forever remains plastered on his face.

As days pass by, Shammy progressively spins a swaddle of uncertainty around him and keeps the eerie smirk intact, throwing the ones around him into spasms of fear and uncertainty. Simi learns to constantly keep her guard when he is around, and in a hilarious scene when she is involved in a hushed conversation with her younger sister Baby , the partial silhouette of the beaming man appears over the kitchen door. The sisters are startled out of their wits, and in the uproarious scene that follows, they try their very best to keep their secret to themselves, even as the man with the sinister smile at the other end unrelentingly tries to prod it out of them.

The sharp strategies that the narrative adopts work tremendously in the film’s favour, and in one such instance Saji approaches a shrink to reopen his tear ducts that have been apparently blocked. The psychiatrist edges him on to lay it all out before him, and the shattered man starts talking of his childhood before totally breaking down and burying his face on the comfortable buttress of the doctor’s paunch. Far away on a mangrove, under a canopy of green leaves the cracks through which glistening streams of sunlight seeps in, lie Bobby and Baby, with him drawing a family tree on the insides of her palm. The two scenes collide and intersect, and we get to hear a staggering disclosure that no detailed flashback could probably have conveyed any better.


There is a subtle dwelling on the need for equity in the film; a proposal of sorts that points out how unreasonable we have turned out to be, in the process of marking out fellow beings and clustering them up in groups, as regards religion, race or even skin colour. Bobby is astounded that his pal Prasanth (Sooraj Pops) has finally found a girl for himself despite his highly unconventional looks, and on meeting her for the first time, chidingly asks her if she is the kind who is not much of a believer in appearance. Sumisha (Riya Saira) is amused at his query, and promptly instructing her beau to put on a pair of sunglasses, asks Bobby if there is anything that this stunner of a man needs more.

On another instance Simi is aghast that her younger sister Baby has struck up an alliance with a Christian boy, which makes the latter remark that Christ isn’t a stranger to them anyway. The restrained reference to the tumultuous alleyways that Murugan and Sathi (Sheela Rajkumar) have traversed along holds tremendous significance, and so does the wordless romance that blooms between Boney and Nylah, where hardly anything else in the whole wide world matters.

The fishing nets are themselves potential material for a strange metaphor, of lives that could have been fully lived and of the never ending string of possibilities that could have been. There are multiple instances of Saji and Bobby flinging the net over the waters, while Boney is seen mending and loosening the knots that have appeared over the days. And with the final capturing of the big fish that Franky manages to lure into his net, the boy officially comes of age, adding his name on to the family beside those of his elder brothers, with an unmistakable decisiveness, once and for all.

There is a tremendous craft in tying up all these outwardly loose strands together and laying them out as a vibrant yarn, where they intersperse to create a majestic pattern that radiates with the sensitivity of life. There is also the enchanting manner in which a series of mishaps and misadventures are wrapped up into a wholesome bundle that emerges as satisfying to the core. It is here that this green cactus of a film finally bears the gorgeous yellow flower heads; where the waters of the lake spring to life, shimmering and glistening with the shiny sparkles of blue bioluminescence.


To the film’s credit, it refuses to turn didactic and purposefully instructive and impresses us instead with its massive scale and craft. The emotional baggage that it carries is the kind that you would like to share the weight of, and the several layers of insightful scenes that it peels away finally reveals the crux of fraternal bonding that lies within. It is the solid writing by Syam Pushkaran that without doubt, comes up trumps again and the comic wisdom that brims over the script, renders the film an unparalleled charm.

Here is a bunch of terrifically accomplished actors giving it their very best, and Soubin delivers his career best in a role that leaves a lump down your throat. There is Shane who is as efficient as ever, carrying the right amount of sensitivity in a role that demands loads of it, and Sreenath Bhasi who simply wows with a streamlined performance. Mathew Thomas might be the youngest, but certainly not one to be left behind, and the brooding Franky is safe in his young hands.

There are the women – Grace Antony and Anna Ben – who have none of the timidity or diffidence that you would expect of a fresher and who come up with steadfast feats, and the several supporting actors – Ramesh Thilak, Sheela Rajkumar, Sooraj Pops, Riya Saira, Jasmine Metivier, Ambika Rao or even that young boy who played the sceptical Ashley to perfection – all of whom deliver the goods with aplomb.

This review cannot however do without a very special word of appreciation, or admiration rather, for the actor that Fahadh Faasil is, and while it has become almost customary for him to excel in even underwritten roles, in ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ he dynamically outshines himself. The man sends shivers down your spine with a show that is lethal, and emerges the scene stealer with a finely chiselled out act.


‘Kumbalangi Nights’ should also be the most visually arresting film that I have seen in recent times, and Shyju Khalid pens down sheer poetry with his exemplary cinematography. There is a mastery in almost every frame that he has come up with; be it the ripples in the river at night that make you wonder if a shower of golden glitter has been splashed around, or the Chinese nets that spring to life in the moonlight, the sheer weariness of a row of kerosene cans idly hung up on a line, the glistening edge of a shaving blade that hesitantly waits as if to decide on the fate of a growing stubble or the optimistic edge of a coconut leaf reaching down just a bit further in its effort to stroke the waters that surge below.

This ocular grandeur reaches its peak in a stellar scene where we get to see Saji rowing his way back home in a canoe, with Sathi and her newly delivered baby nestled against her lap. Visibly and perceptibly reminiscent of Mary and the birth of Jesus Christ, it’s a scene that deserves a standing ovation for its pictorial brilliance, and for the stellar note that it carries within. Sushin Syam’s haunting musical score is nothing short of exotic, and gels beautifully with the redolent mood of the piece.

‘Kumbalangi Nights’ is much more than an account of four brothers on a frenzied quest to find themselves and each other. Drenched in a matchless mix of human emotions that range from hilarity to hopelessness, it’s a superb film that drives you into raptures and which is infused with figurative undertones, structures and symbols that hold a striking mirror to the times that we live in.

Verdict: Excellent