‘Kumbalangi Nights’ review: Casting a Net

When his hostel friends ask him if they can visit his home during the holidays, Franky stiffens, and then, as he turns over to go to sleep in his bunker, he informs them that they can’t, because everyone at home’s down with chicken pox. Franky, played with a delightful affectednessby Mathew Thomas, is one of four brothers living in the boondocks of Kumbalangi, a fishing village in Kochi. But that’s not all why Franky doesn’t want his friends coming over.

In the door-less, hapless brick shanty that they call home, the brothers are a coil of live-wires, threatening to set off electric explosions if they even as much as swish past each others’ aural fields. But swish and smash they do, and this is how you meet the eldest brother Saji (Soubin Shahir, absolutely magnificent in his depiction of the quasi-family head, managing multiple struggles of acceptance, dependence, and an emotional turmoil that churns within and without even as he looks for redemption), his bête noire band of brothers Bobby (played by Shane Nigam with charm and a whistling nonchalance that’s disarming and eminently likeable) and Bonny (Sreenath Bhasi letting his eyes do all the talking in enchanting volumes).

Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, and Sreenath Bhasi: testy bonds.

Writer Syam Pushkaran and director Madhu C. Narayanan weave this winner about the four brothers, slowly and surely circling a welcoming blanket of belongingness around you as they develop the story, letting in beams of the past to throw light on the shadow-boxing of emotions that their characters circle in and then also let in the warmth of the light, slowly melting you and them in a unison of emotions. They say the best glue for any family is the adhesion of a common enemy. And here, the happily unemployed Bobby does his bit by falling for Babymol—played with sparkling vivaciousness by Anna Ben—who knows her mind and her feelings, and has no qualms expressing either—getting in her family into the act, primarily her prim and proper brother in-law Shammi (Fahadh Faasil, also co-producing,in a glinting act, oscillating with oily slickness between plastic caring and hard-boiled nastiness) whose obsession with his perfectly trimmed moustache is more than just a fetish. Meanwhile, Bonny moonwalks into a relationship with a foreigner, Nylah (Jasmine Mètivier) that ups Shammi’s moralistic ante even further.

Shane Nigam throws you off with delightful charm.

Kumbalangi Nights has crackling comic dialogues that are dotted with local references (actor Mammootty‘s characters’ fate in love stories, the Lady Bird bike and men riding them, amongst others), and yet is universal in its unwavering look at the conditioning of men when it comes to women and their independence, women’s role in relationships, and in the family—there’s a masterful scene of shifting a dining chair to the head of the table, reminding you of a check-mate move.

Fahadh Faasil is a stickler for grooming.

Elsewhere, the movie’s an absolute delight when it looks at burgeoning relationships in love and the playful see-saw of arguments and counters. And there’s the familial wisp that hangs like a sigh all through, bonding you with the characters stronger with every scene. You feel like Franky does, when he sees women in his house, bashful and delighted by turn, sensing some hope for what Shammi calls the shit land of Kumbalangi, as love takes different shapes and meaning in four different corners; this, even as the movie takes a sharp turn into a tightly thrilling climactic act.

Buoyed by Shyju Khalid‘s intimate cinematography—the night sequences in the backwaters and long shots of the shanty are especially a treat—and uplifted by Sushin Shyam‘s lovely score, the movie’s studied, graceful notes soar and then land around you. That’s when you realize that it’s net is well and truly cast.

Kumbalangi Nights (2019) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

Kumbalangi Nights is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for mild profanity, and mildly intense sequences.
Kumbalangi Nights
Director Madhu C. Narayanan Time 2h 15 min
Writer Syam Pushkaran
Stars Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi, Fahadh Faasil, Anna Ben, Mathew Thomas
Genres  Comedy, Drama, Romance