Have you ever experienced a situation so terrifying that it made a profound impact on your life? The central protagonist of Kappela, Jessy (Anna Ben), is transformed by one such incident. Given Jessy’s age and the nature of the things that happen to her, Kappela eventually becomes a coming-of-age drama that brings with it some delightful surprises.
A mobile phone romance is initiated between Jessy and an autorickshaw driver Vishnu (Roshan Mathew). There is a rare authenticity to their interactions that could trigger old memories for some. The strain of maintaining a discreet love affair feels so real. And being the natural performers that they are, Roshan and Anna bring the right amount of vulnerability and intensity to their characters. Jessy and Vishnu share a dynamic that is as adorable as it is problematic.
When Sreenath Bhasi’s Roy shows up, the tension is cranked up and whatever assumptions we held about some characters go for a toss. Sreenath has now become the go-to actor for volatile, unpredictable characters. Because of his presence, it feels like watching two films at once—a romance drama and a thriller. This is a film more interested in characters than the story—and putting the characters above anything else gets half the job done. The film puts Jessy through a myriad of emotions in a very short span. It’s an approach Steven Soderbergh tried long ago in King of the Hill (1993), another coming-of-age drama where the main character is put through numerous mettle-testing situations before things go back to normal.
Kappela is the third film set in the Malabar region, after Sudani from Nigeria and Android Kunjappan, that effectively immerses the viewer in the local ambience. But then it’s not just a story specific to Malabar alone. It can happen anywhere and to anyone. We get a peek into some households while we are withheld from some others, for good reason. All these characters feel so familiar to us. Much of the film’s conflict arises from the behaviour of the main characters.
Also, each secondary character contributes to the psychology of the film in some way. They look at the main characters in a certain way and we are compelled to share their vision. We get the information from the arts and sports club where the guys hang out. We get the information from the female characters’ mundane conversations. We are also introduced to a host of other colourful characters, who never once feel like mere embellishments.
Kappela is the latest entry from Malayalam cinema that joins the league of films that managed to create something brilliant out of minor incidents. It’s yet another testament to the fact that focused writers and directors can do wonders regardless of the scale of the material.
Cast: Anna Ben, Roshan Mathew, Sreenath Bhasi