'Manjummel boys' movie review: Layered, moving retelling of a real incident

This Chidambaram directorial doesn’t limit itself as just an ode to friendship or a riveting survival drama. It’s also about nature
'Manjummel boys' movie review: Layered, moving retelling of a real incident

The story of a bunch of friends from Manjummel finding themselves in a precarious situation while on a trip to Kodaikanal, is familiar among many, especially for those in Ernakulam. It is sort of an urban legend among the locals, though many still refuse to believe it. But thanks to the outstanding efforts of director Chidambaram and his team, an extraordinary tale of friendship and valour has finally got a deserving tribute.

Manjummel Boys’ narrative unfolds in a typical fashion by introducing all the principal characters and where they come from. But Chidambaram, who has also written the script, doesn’t waste a lot of time with character development. As a result, not all of them have proper depth, but guess what, the focus is more on the actual ‘depth’ of the cave and the portions around it. But even then, some of these men’s traits are conveyed effectively with minimal dialogues. Like how Deepak Parambol’s character has a cleanliness obsession, Lal Jr’s impulsive nature or Balu Varghese’s tendency to talk too loud. The smart writing ensures all these details get fitting payoffs later in the film.

(Mild Spoilers Ahead)

One of the best things about Manjummel Boys is the boys themselves. The cast is an eclectic mix, ranging from established actors like Soubin Shahir and Sreenath Bhasi to filmmakers like Khalid Rahman and Lal Jr, and raw talents like Chandhu and Vishnu. All these actors share great camaraderie offscreen, which ensures the makers don’t have to try too hard to establish their bond. It also means that as an audience, we’re ready to believe that these guys will go to any extent to rescue one among them. The film also works on a meta-level as we see Sreenath Bhasi, who has lately been entangled in various issues, getting rescued by his friends.

Rescue from where? The Guna Caves aka The Devil’s Kitchen. When two characters simultaneously explain the place’s history and the dangers that lie within, it almost feels like watching a horror film. Cinematographer Shyju Khalid has also treated the terrain similar to a haunted house where every next step feels like a pitfall. Within the cave, the source of light is only minimal and along with that, there’s mist and rain.

Shyju’s frames capture all these transitions seamlessly and put us right in the midst of it. He is also aided by Ajayan Chalissery’s excellent production design and Sushin Shyam’s music which evokes a sense of impending threat as soon as the characters approach the caves. It is still unsure how much of the film was shot in real locations, which tells a lot about the authenticity of Ajayan Chalissery’s work.

The effectiveness of a survival drama is not completely reliant on the thrills and twists of its rescue operation, but on making the audience root for the person trapped. On that note, Manjummel Boys gets its emotional tones consistently right. On the way to Kodaikanal, the boys stop at Palani, a religious town where it is believed that the God sits atop the mountain. This is where Sreenath Bhasi’s character questions the meaning and existence of God. Later in Kodai, we see the same person being hailed as God by the locals after he survives the depths of evil.

It’s one of the most emotionally stirring moments in the film. But the best of all comes towards the end, courtesy: A genius placement of the iconic song, ‘Kanmani Anbodu Kadhalan’ from Guna. It’s placed so aptly that Vaali’s lyrics for the 1991-released song are perfectly in sync with this 2024 film. If that’s not peak cinema, don’t know what is. The lines ‘Undana Kaayam Ellam’ are sure to hit differently after Manjummel Boys.

Chidambaram’s directorial debut Jan.E.Man is considered a comedy, but it was layered with mature themes like isolation, mental health, and various discriminations. Similarly, Manjummel Boys also doesn’t limit itself as just an ode to friendship or a riveting survival drama. It is also about nature.

Manjummel is a suburb in Ernakulam district surrounded by the Periyar river. During their childhood, we see the boys enjoying a swim in the pristine waters of Periyar. But in the present, Manjummel is depicted through drone shots of its factories and the fumes coming out of it.

Because of rapid industrialization, the area is now devoid of its natural resources. It is further emphasized by the lines ‘Periyarin Arumakalelle Kaal Thodum Mannellam Malinamalle’ (Wherever Periyar treads, it’s now impure...) in the song, ‘Kuthanthram’.

While Manjummel represents a picture of how humans exploit nature, the Guna Caves signifies how nature can thrive without human intervention. Shyju Khalid underlines it with the final few shots of the cave.

Film: Manjummel Boys

Director: Chidambaram

Cast: Soubin Shahir, Sreenath Bhasi, Balu Varghese, Lal Jr, Deepak Parambol

Rating : 4/5

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