I'm trying to think of the last Malayalam film that made me feel like Sabaash Chandra Bose (SCB) did. Of course, I wouldn’t dare to compare it to any other filmmaker’s work because VC Abhilash is someone with a distinct signature. However, it’s possible to name at least three films with almost the same vibe that SCB has: Padmarajan’s Kallan Pavithran, Sathyan Anthikad’s Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu, and Basil Joseph’s Kunjiramayanam. SCB is one of those rare films embodying the look and spirit of the 80s so strongly that it feels like a two-hour time-travel trip.
SCB sees VC Abhilash, who won the national award for the Indrans-starrer Aalorukkam, exploring a relatively light-hearted terrain this time. In fact, it’s one of the funniest Malayalam movies of the year. And it achieves this by doing some of the most simple things in a simple story. It could be the staging of a scene, an actor’s performance, or the silences. The number of people populating the film could fit into three or four houses. And these houses, with their walls adorned with posters of stars or advertisements from the time, are not too different from Nedumudi Venu’s residence from Kallan Pavithran or Sreenivasan’s from Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu.
There is another nostalgia-inducing detail, too. It’s also the film’s most important and central one: a vintage TV set. SCB evokes that time when hardly one or two houses in a particular locality had one— when that house turned into a ‘theatre’ for everyone from the neighbourhood. There was no other way to see a movie or television program except through the benevolence of the people who owned this set. If you grew up in one such household, and have fond memories of your parents or grandparents entertaining numerous guests during a ‘Doordarshan’ weekend, then you might find SCB quite delightful.
As for the story, well, that’s simple too. What happens when one of these visitors—in this case, Vishnu Unnikrishnan—takes offence at how certain things panned out during an incident and then takes on the challenge of buying a TV set for his own home? As for the incident, it’s a funeral that spawns a few intense yet comical exchanges, particularly between Johny Antony and Vishnu, even if the former didn’t have anything to do with it. The actual blame lies on a grandpa with a gift for stirring up unnecessary trouble.
SCB is at its funniest when it becomes a heist movie. What if the person who stole something has to put it back? In most heist movies, the robbery creates all the tension. In this film’s case, though, the robbery part is a piece of cake. The main challenge is the task of putting back the stolen item. In the midst of all this is a workers’ strike in the vicinity. It’s this situation that becomes the central conflict responsible for generating most of the tension and laughs. Amusement also comes from the idea of having two characters from different castes teaming up for this mission. I wouldn’t say it’s a caste-oriented film, but discrimination is very much part of the story, considering how it devotes a small section of its runtime to Vishnu’s attempts to woo an upper-caste girl. But, ultimately, it’s all about the TV set.
One could, of course, try to find hidden meanings here and there—and this film has enough scope for that—but SCB can be savoured simply as a piece of laidback entertainment, too. The presence of Johny Antony —who appears throughout the film—alone guarantees a worthwhile experience.