You cannot help but marvel at the new crop of Malayalam films out there. The new vanguard has all but taken over the filmmakers of the early 2000s. Their experimental styles incorporate a sort of realism that is all but gone from most mainstream movies in Bollywood. They are talented and willing to take risks and tell stories of the average person. This trend is to be admired. And Kappela is another such exciting venture by a debutant director. It is intelligent filmmaking.
The beautiful hills and the small town is captured beautifully by the camera. This is Jessy’s home. The small nuances of the daily lives of the people are shown with humour and sensitivity. What seems like a sweet romance over the phone between Jessy and Vishnu after a wrong number, is shown with the tenderness of a budding romance. These characters don’t seem like caricatures. They seem like versions of people you see around and conversations you have heard around.
Jessy’s adventure to Kozhikode is what dramatically changes everything. Without giving much away, let’s just say that all is not what it seems like. Like the movie “Ishq,” Kappela pumps up the stress quotient in this sequence. Viewers will be understandably uncomfortable and worried on Jessy’s behalf. Her phone calls from the tiny stall in the claustrophobic bathroom just amps up the dramatic tension. Another character Roy makes his entry at this point in the movie, played by the beloved Sreenath Bhasi. For young people in Kerala like myself, Bhasi represented the “modern” Keralite in ways that many before him just couldn’t.
What the film excels at is showing how things are not always what they look like. They feature scenes where a certain character is extremely angry, constantly smoking, and then drinking in a small shady bar. These are usually characteristic of the “villain” in the film. What the film also excels at is getting the best performances out of these actors. Anna Ben gives an astounding performance. Like “Kumbalangi Nights,” she plays a small-town girl with small dreams and aspirations. She is essentially the hero of the movie, it is her story and it is her that the camera follows from beginning to end. Roshan Mathew also gives an excellent performance fresh off his Hindi debut. The director Muhammed Musthafa also makes an appearance in the film.
The plot of Kappela isn’t too far-fetched. The story doesn’t try too hard to give solutions or moralise the situation. It instead just shows it as it is. But it noticeably also tries to show the humanity of people who don’t jump on to attack Jessy for her decisions. At no point in the movie is the question raised as to why she decides to meet Vishnu. There is even a funny moment when people in the park, along with the police (who are known for their moral policing), pick on Roy because they think he has been engaging in moral policing. Even the ending of the movie shows Jessy who seems to have moved on.
It’s the small bits and pieces that the movie shows that keeps the narrative interesting. It’s the day-to-day existence that the film picks on. Of course, there may be slight inconveniences one may find with the implications of what it means when the cousin Annie tells Jessy that it’s okay because no one knows what happened, and no one needs to know as well. It calls on to the fact that a larger population may just attempt to do the victim-shaming that hasn’t happened so far. It also shows the distrust people have in the police to deal with matters with the sensitivity required. But Kappela isn’t idealistic. There is of course a touch of idealism but it is very pragmatic. It makes sense in the framework of the society it is placed in. And it is a good step forward in addressing the issue that they have placed at the centre of the story.
While accidental phone-romances have found a place in pop culture as something funny or amusing, it was popularised with the 2011 movie “Salt N’ Pepper.” But that movie was placed in a very different context, with an urban setting. Kappela draws on this popular trope but tries to show the implications of it in this particular setting. Kappela is a sometimes tense and uncomfortable, but overall very exciting watch. The makers of the film should be very proud of their offering. And the actors should be so proud of their extremely compelling performances.