(director/writer: Madhu C. Narayanan; screenwriter: Syam Pushkaran; cinematographer: Shyju Khalid; editor: Saiju Sreedharan; music: Sushin Shyam; cast: Soubin Shahir (Saji), Shane Nigam (Bobby), Fahadh Faasil (Shammy), Grace Antony (Simi), Sooraj Pops (Prasanth), Riya Saira (Sumeesha), Sreenath Bhasi (Boney), Anna Ben (Baby), Ambika Rao (Baby’s Mother), Franky (Mathew Thomas), Ramesh Thilak (Vijay), Jasmine Mètivier (Nylah), Sheela Rajkumar (Sathy); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Nazriya Nazim/Syam Pushkaran/Dileesh Pothan; Zee Studios; 2019–India-in Malayalam with English subtitles)

“Doesn’t transfer that well to the West.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut of the Indian filmmaker Madhu C. Narayanan, who mainly works in the Malayalam film industry, is an eye-opening family drama with social commentary about people making a mess of the world. It becomes a feel-good story of welcoming change as being a way to survive. It’s written by Syam Pushkaran, who slowly develops the characters and their struggle to overcome poverty through a sense of unity and comedy.

The story is about four unemployed impoverished step and half- brothers–played by Bobby (Shane Nigaam), Saji (Soubin Shahir), Boney (Sreenath Bhasi), a mute dancer, and the aspiring young, footballer Franky (Mathew Thomas)–who live as a dysfunctional family in a dilapidated shed on a small island, in the rural picturesque fishing village of Kumbalangi. The islet is on Kochi’s backwaters, a location used as a dumping site for unwanted pets and human waste.

The eldest brothers Saji and Bobby are idlers, who lie around doing nothing all day but wrestling with each other. When Bobby does a fishing job one day for tourists, he falls for the pretty tourist guide Baby (Anna Ben). Her sister, Simi (Grace Antony), recently married the menacing mustached Shammy (Fahadh Faasil). The overbearing Shammy, a control freak, will not let Bobby and Baby marry because the lad comes from such a disrespected family and has no means to support a wife. The strongest film character is Shammy, the salon owner, who plays a cartoon-like goofball. He thinks of himself as the Perfect Man until he gets his come-uppance.

In the second half, the pace quickens and secrets about this strange family come to light, like their mom moving away to become an evangelist. The film captures the inner tensions of its well-developed characters.The brothers learn to stick together and encourage the elopement of Bobby and Baby. They also open up their hearts to others (orphans begin to populate their home, as well as Boney bringing in an exotic foreign tourist as his lover) and they watch out for themselves while they change for the better.

The film doesn’t transfer that well to the West. Comical one-liners serve as philosophical musings on life. It’s a coming-of-age film meant to celebrate masculinity as an ability to unite people. But there were too many cultural messages sent that perhaps only an audience tuned into life in rural India could care about.

Shyju Khalid’s cinematography is visually striking. Sushin Shyam’s musical score is catchy. The ensemble cast is fine and veteran actor Fahadh Faasil shines in a small role as the villain. This is probably a good film for the right audience, I just don’t think that’s me.

Top 10 Malayalam Films Of 2019 Kumbalangi Nights
Anna Ben, Mathew Thomas, Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam, Soubin Shahir, Jasmine Metivier, and Sheela Rajkumar in Kumbalangi Nights (2019)

REVIEWED ON 1/10/2020  GRADE: B-  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/