Kayamkulam Kochunni Review - an Ambitious Tale of Kerala's own Robin Hood
Who hasn’t heard of Robin Hood and been exposed to his numerous avatars be it in the form of literary or celluloid adaptations? Kayamkulam Kochunni has been Kerala’s own answer to the legendary character, one who robbed from the rich and gave it to the poor. Rosshan Andrrews' announcement of a new Kayakulam Kochunni film (there was an earlier version which came out in 1966) did take people by surprise. After all this was a film that is based on a tale that everyone is aware of, yet would require a lavish scale due to the setting and period involved. And with the confirmation of Nivin Pauly in the titular role and with Mohanlal on board in an extended cameo as Ithikkara Pakki, the expectations from the film only sky rocketed. It is quite natural to wonder if the film would actually manage to meet the high expectations.
Needless to say the film also would also get compared with similar large scale period spectacles seen in Malayalam cinema of late like Pazhassi Raja and Urumi. So now that the film has finally released today after missing out on the original plan for an Onam release (due to the Kerala floods), how has the film finally turned out? Well let me come to that in a bit. Rosshan Andrrews begins the tale by talking of Kochunni's (Nivin Pauly) origin. Despite being subjected to poverty Kochunni does not straight away follow the footsteps of his father and become a robber himself. He does initially try to lead a simple and contented life by working hard. But in an act of trying to please the local bigwigs he ends up being betrayed and left to die. This is when a change of circumstance goes on to set the base for him to become the legendary highwayman and a champion of the downtrodden.
Making use of the disclaimer that the film is fictional, Rosshan Andrrews and his writers Bobby and Sanjay have deliberately made use of certain liberties with the legendary tale to suit the present day cinematic adaptation. This can be especially seen with the way the film's climax has been developed, giving it a more popular appeal perhaps. The writing works to a considerable extent, building up the momentum gradually and managing to keep the audience engaged by weaving in some interesting moments at regular intervals. The whole rivalry angle between Kochunni and Keshavan (Sunny Wayne) which begins at the Kalari school of Thangal (Babu Antony) is well depicted. Another aspect that works in favour of the film is the correct placement of Ithikkara Pakki’s character and the screen time allotted to him, neither too short, nor too long. Sunil Babu’s production design ensures that the grandeur is seen without being outlandish, his experience of working on Pazhassi Raja and Urumi being put to effective use.
Gopi Sundar's music goes in flow with the mood of the film while Binod Pradhan's cinematography brings in a strong visual appeal. The film has a huge star cast and of these the ones who get noticed prominently are Babu Antony as Thangal, the kalari expert and a Sufi of sorts, Priya Anand as Janaki, the love interest of Kochunni and Sunny Wayne as the antagonist Keshavan. Mohanlal’s extended cameo as Ithikkara Pakki is sure to please the masses and his fans in particular. In fact he livens up the proceedings with his electrifying presence, adding value to the film. Nivin Pauly gets to display multiple shades to his character, turning effectively from a simple innocent youngster into the dreaded highwayman, but then it’s not a landmark performance from someone as talented as he is. Kayamkulam Kochunni has almost all that it takes to engage the audience and not distract them unnecessarily. However it clearly lacks a wow factor which is the crucial differentiating factor that restricts the film from becoming as effective as a Pazhassi Raja.
Rosshan Andrrews' attempt at making a grand visual spectacle and reworking an old familiar tale isn't totally a lost cause, but it’s not a masterpiece either.