The first scene of Shammi (Fahadh Faasil) in Madhu C. Narayanan’s Kumbalangi Nights has him fixing his moustache looking in a mirror. As he manages to perfectly align his moustache in just the right way, he beams and quotes an ad, saying, “Raymond, the perfect man”. There is a bindi stuck in the mirror as the scene takes place. He sees it, not as a bindi that presumably belongs to his newly-wedded wife, but as a hindrance to his otherwise perfect reflection on the mirror. What does he do? He tears out the bindi and washes it away in the sink, almost vindictively.
Now this could have, rather would have, been portrayed with utmost normalcy in several films we watch today, especially in Bollywood. Who is a woman, after all, to come in between a man’s perfection? That bindi had no place whatsoever in the vicinity, who cares if it was a common bathroom for both?
The thing is, it isn’t normal. And above all, it is not right. That is what Kumbalangi Nights – currently streaming on Amazon Prime – tries to assert, not just by pointing out the absurdity and irony of a man like Shammi, but also by etching out certain characters that are the complete opposite of his ‘complete man’.
Take Saji (Soubin Shahir), for example. The eldest in a rather dysfunctional family of four brothers. After witnessing the death of one of his closest friends, as the latter attempts to save him from killing himself in a state of intoxication, he finds himself unable to express his emotions. In a scene that can pull a heartstring or two, he begs his little brother Franky (Mathew Thomas) to take him to a psychiatrist as he was unable to cry his heart out, especially when he needed it the most.
Isn’t that such a stark contradiction from that of Shammi, the main antagonist, though?
Now getting to the brothers, in general. Franky, the youngest one, clearly misses the presence of a woman in his family. He is self-sufficient, though. He knows how to cook, how to stay alone, and how to manage his brothers, ignoring them when needed. Then comes Bonny (Sreenath Bhasi), the quiet rebel of the family. He can’t speak, but he is bold enough to spread his wings and pursue his passion for dancing in a family of fishermen. And then there’s Bobby (Shane Nigam), who is pretty much directionless till the time he meets Baby (Anna Ben), also Shammi’s sister-in-law. Their love story is the centre-point of the story, as the two families collide, only to bring out the wide difference between them — not in terms of ‘class’, as Shammi believes, but in terms of mentality, equality and plain, simple humanity.
There’s a scene where Baby insists on not wanting to get physical with Bobby before marriage. When Bobby gets angry and threatens to break up with her, she stands up for herself and tells him that she deserves better anyway. She doesn’t change for Bobby, not once. Rather her presence motivates him to change his ways and bring about a sense of direction in his otherwise directionless life. There’s mutual respect amongst them, which makes them both better, more courageous people. On the other hand, there’s a scene where Baby’s sister Simmy (Grace Antony) reprimands Shammi for not talking to Baby properly. Shammi, unable to take the ‘humiliation’, hides under a self-created cocoon only to unravel in a way that would shock, and scare the life out of the family.
So many parallels could be drawn from this one man living in his wife’s house post marriage, with her sister and mother, and this family of four men living in a small house on the other side — the wasteland – of the Kumbalangi backwaters. While the former grows into a weird house filled with absurdities of Shammi manipulating his way as the patriarchal ‘head of the family’, the latter grows into a family that welcomes one and all, and treats everyone as equals. As one family declines and decays into one that is scared of ‘the man’ living there, the other blooms and blossoms into a family. One turns into a figurative wasteland in a central, prime area of the backwaters, a house that everyone fears and looks down on, while the other turns into a place where one comes to find a little bit of happiness.
And that’s what people do to a place. That’s how a house becomes a home. Shammi’s backward mentality, his constant urge to take control, and to be the ‘Shammi, the hero, the rescuer of the three hapless women in his house’, as believed by him, destroys what could have been a loving home. On the other hand, the four brothers not only acknowledge their flaws, but are willing to take ownership of them all, teaming up for each other, having their backs despite all their fights. They value the presence of a woman in the house, they miss their mother, but then they understand too. And when Bobby comes to them, sharing his feelings for Baby, each and every one of them is willing to help, earnestly and truthfully. Never do they let their ego come in between whenever Shammi belittles their profession or their class. They march on, together, finally finding a common ground to be there for each other.
And that’s exactly why this Malayalam film stands out amidst a gamut of films. It presents the difference between right and wrong, and the irony behind the behavior of men like Shammi by drawing parallels with flawed, but much better people. What is the use of having a hierarchy in a family when there is so much harmony in another, where everyone is looked at and valued in the same way, after all?
If only everyone got it. The world would have been a much better place with no need to ascertain all this. But then, that’s not how it is, unfortunately. And that’s where Kumbalangi Nights comes in, as one little ray of hope that tries to delve into a topic as serious as this in an essentially light-hearted way.
Our suggestion: Watch it, not just as any other film, but as a film that is much-needed in times of today.