Film: Kayamkulam Kochunni
Director: Rosshan Andrrews
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Babu Antony, Mohanlal, Priya Anand, Sunny Wayne
It's not the spectacle from Kayamkulam Kochunni that stayed with me after leaving the theatre; it's the characters. Sure, there is an ample amount of spectacle befitting its budget, but I'm unable to recall them as clearly as the relationships between the primary characters, which can be easily tracked to the time they were established.
The Kayamkulam Kochunni legend comes with the weight and aura of mystery that is usually associated with, say, the popular Western anti-heroes like Batman or Phantom. Just like them, Kayamkulam Kochunni has been subjected to multiple interpretations. What kind of a man was he? How did he live? How did he die? Everyone has a different version to tell. Can anyone claim to know the actual version? When it comes to a legend like his, the "facts" can be modified to form an entirely new interpretation that didn't exist before.
This new big-screen iteration, directed by Rosshan Andrrews, tells a different version, one that invites us to think that things could've happened this way too. It's not claiming to be the actual version. There is more of "based on a legend" than "based on a true story" in this version. And it's only natural if it's going to upset a few purists who had a different image of Kochunni in their minds. But that doesn't necessarily make them wrong. Everyone's imagination works differently. My imagination, on the other hand, was fine with the character presented to me through Nivin Pauly, who plays Kochunni.
But at the same time, I admit that I wished to see this character do something more. I would've liked to see more menace, more ferociousness, and more mystery from him; for this is a guy for whom, when we first see him in his younger days, theft is a deplorable deed. So, when a painful act of betrayal -- which he seems capable of dealing with -- convinces him to shift gears, I found it a bit hard to buy. But everyone has a breaking point.
I ran into a couple of friends who said they didn't get the larger-than-life feeling that this character demands. But maybe he is not supposed to be larger-than-life. This, to me, is Nivin's finest performance till date. His casting makes so much sense when you consider what the makers were going for. When you look at Nivin, you don't see a superstar, and that's exactly what works to his advantage here. He is a naive young man who matures into a fierce bandit. He inspires dread in his enemies but is also occasionally prone to making mistakes.
The most impactful relationship in the film, for me, is the one between Kochunni and his guru, Thangal (Babu Antony in a terrific comeback). You look at Thangal and you wonder why Kochunni didn't get him as the father. It's a role tailor-made for Antony. Kochunni is the Ekalavya to Thangal's Drona. In one of the few instances of Kochunni's larger-than-lifeness, Thangal remarks that Kochunni learned something in 40 days what others take a year to master, much to the chagrin of his best student Keshava Kurup (an effectively wicked Sunny Wayne) who eventually becomes Kochunni's archnemesis.
The romance arc between Kochunni and Janaki (Priya Anand), though not as emotionally stirring as one would expect, has an interesting resolution that paves the way to a rousing finale that could've used a little more restraint. This no-holds-barred conclusion, despite managing to raise a few hairs on my body, looks slightly over-the-top considering the degree of realism Rosshan maintains up to that point. The film looks grand, no doubt, but I would've loved to see Kochunni in more daring and more exciting adventures than anything depicted in this. I guess the 45-crore budget wasn't enough to execute them.
And why does Gopi Sundar's background sound almost the same in every film? The whole time, I was thinking, "Didn't I hear this already in Kammara Sambhavam?" With the exception of the song Kalariyadavum, the songs don't add much. The background score is uninspiring and sounds more like a national anthem than a score apt for a hero. On more than one occasion, it threatens to drain the energy out of a well-staged scene.
I've saved the best for the last. The film's show stealer is, undoubtedly, Mohanlal, whose Ittikkara Pakki gets an elegant entrance reminiscent of Omar Sharif's from Lawrence of Arabia. It's the actor's best role in a long time. His presence, which lasts for a duration of 15-20 minutes, suggests several fascinating backstories and gives the necessary push to Kochunni, and the movie. Pakki possesses the dynamism of Toshiro Mifune from Seven Samurai and the stoicism of Clint Eastwood from the Dollars trilogy. I wouldn't mind watching an Ittikkara Pakki spin-off if they ever decide to make one.