A half-baked drama—there is no better word to describe the much-awaited Malayalam film Kayamkulam Kochunni. This big budget film hits all the right aesthetic notes—the characters wear period clothes, gora actors play British army officers, and the art department has done a commendable job overall. But, the script by Bobby-Sanjay and the direction by Rosshan Andrews fail to keep the characters believable, and the viewers engaged. Nivin Pauly delivers an average performance—discounting the final quarter—as the Robin Hood-esque folk hero.
The film portrays the life of Kochunni—from his childhood, to the later stages where he becomes a bandit, albeit a principled one. The script delves into the nuances, the situations that force Kochunni to become a thief. But, like his western counterpart—the phantom of Sherwood forest—he is a rebel with a cause, fighting for the poor and the downtrodden, among whom he boasts a fiercely loyal following.
The writers reportedly conducted extensive historical research for the production of this period drama. However, there are several let-downs. Even though the backdrop of the film is 19th century Kerala, the dialogues are hardly representative of the period. Also, there are serious inconsistencies in the dialects employed by different characters in the movie.
The hero is a staunch opposer of caste divisions and untouchability. But, the film fails to convey the barbarity of theendal (contamination by sight or touch) or thodeel (untouchability) that was prevalent at the time; rather, there is an overarching sentiment of cohabitation and existence. There are some exceptions of course—the upper caste community attempts to seal a public well just because a lower caste boy has fallen into it. However, they fail to locate such incidents within the larger social context; this particular scene is soon diverted to a fight between Kochunni and a python. The protagonist attacks and plunders upper caste villains, and soon becomes a killer. The filmmakers go to pains to ensure there is no generalisation; thus, a merciful Brahmin feudal lord.
Mohanlal's energetic cameo as Ithikkara Pakki—another bandit—comes as a breath of fresh air. Mohanlal succeeds in bringing the eccentric bandit to life, something that Pauly fails to do. Another performance worth mentioning is that of Babu Antony as Thangal, Kochunni's mentor.
The music and background score by Gopi Sundar make an average impact. The cinematography by Binod Pradhan is excellent. There are some great visuals, especially some bird’s-eye shots. There are some praiseworthy fight scenes too. But, logic? Keep that at home before watching this film.
Film: Kayamkulam Kochunni
Direction: Rosshan Andrews
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Mohan Lal, Babu Antony, Priya Anand