Manjummel Boys

One of the things that’s been crippling my writing for the longest time is the daunting thought of structure. I recently realised/discovered that I have a scattered mind. I’d rather embrace that for once to post non-structured, bullet-point pieces that don’t “flow” as much as they just reflect random thoughts. So here are my scattered thoughts on the film… Heavy spoilers ahead.

  • I’m at a phase in life where it’s gotten rare for a film to evoke every single reaction it intends to, out of me. But Chidambaram and his efficient crew have managed to make me feel at all of their film’s pivotal moments. This is a survival film that knows not to sensationalise or perform overt sentimentality towards its characters. It only wants us to be familiar with them, than wanting us to melt for their saccharine goodness. The latter is what plenty of films in this genre have ended up doing, also inadvertently reducing the rousing effect of the triumph at the end. The primary emotional anchor of a survival story shouldn’t be about how a good person has gotten trapped in a fatal situation, but rather about how it is unfortunate for any person trapped in such a situation. 
  • Two images are going to stick with me for long. The first one is the cut from little Subhash diving into water to the older one falling into the pit. It’s this choice I find very interesting more than the story-level purpose of the flashback. It resulted in a visceral feeling that took me by surprise. The flashback of Kuttan saving a drowning Kannan(?) in childhood is otherwise predictably used as a device add context to the former’s action in the present. But not all of them add layers to the present day, as we also have the post-interval hide-and-seek flashback, which is used as an atmospheric segue to reel us back into the doom of the present after the break. The usage of imagery from their childhood is a nice trick to present the humanity of this bunch of friends in an economical way.
  • Speaking of economical writing, I feel the film tries to be too precise to a fault. Now I admire a lot about how the whole thing is designed with setups and memorable callbacks. There’s a long line of characters, but it’s commendable how they aren’t reduced to archetypes alone for us to register them quickly. Sure, they may have distinct personalities, but we also get to know them through their families, their professions and the way they carry themselves in their hometown. This lends us that much-desired lived-in feeling along with actors who are absolutely comfortable with their characters. But at the same time, I wish we spent more time with these people, to connect with them better, before we get into the primary event of the story. I wish they let some of the setup breathe, rather than chugging through with concise scenes or a montage song. It begins to feel like a very calculated film, and that in my mind, affects the longevity of it. It made me feel everything it wanted me to feel during the experience – the tension, desperation, love and jubilance. But I don’t know if I’ll carry the travel of the story with me as much as I’d carry those singular images.
  • The second image that’s going to remain with me, is the usage of Kanmani Anbodu while Kuttan lifts Subhash out of the cave. The first layer of this image, is the one that is about the story we’re watching, and it’s a thing of beauty how organically it fits in here, assuming a new form, a new meaning, making the song sound even more timeless than it already is. But it’s the second one that’s probably the most magical, and profound the film could get for me, and it’s about the meta-ness of this medium. It feels like an exhilirating triumph, for how Chidambaram gives a new unimaginable afterlife to an evergreen piece of film music. I’ve always believed immortality is only achieved through art, and watching such a strong illustration of it in realtime, one that also uses some of my favourite art, feels like I’ve just been granted a boon. I wish the stretch with the song lasted longer. It is kept short, presumably to allow the audience to reach the point of respite as soon as possible, and not revel in the dramatic high. Again, the makers are too calculative to a fault. But I can’t be any more thankful for the existence of this. At that moment, I thought to myself, this moment is precisely why they made this film. Or I’d at least like to believe so.
  • We know a callback to their tug-of-war capabilities is around the corner the moment we see all the required elements placed in frame. But while the moment is still rousing, thanks to the setup and familiarity with the characters, I am simply greedy for it to have been even more of the same. Even Kuttan’s underwater flashback feels just too “well-timed” to underline how it’s of-course him out of all friends who’s going to save Subhash in the present day. Even the callback with regards to Subhash’s views on God assuming a new light later on, feels too neat to punch me in the gut. On paper, these do make for a strong screenplay, but translating them with the emotional heft needed for the screen is an uphill task for sure. This is where a different editing choice could’ve helped. Editor Vivek Harshan’s work here is otherwise, spotless. The film flows.
  • I’d like to commend how the film factors in mental health conditions in a subtle way. Deepak Parambol’s Sudhi(?) has a crippling OCD or some sort of sensory sensitivity. The film isn’t too judgemental of his inactions (but it also redeems him in a convenient instance, with a dramatic questioned posed to him). Chandu Salimkumar’s Abhilash(?) is frozen, experiencing an episode of panic and shock, not knowing how to process the trauma of losing a friend. We also get to see how Sreenath Bhasi’s Subhash has to deal with PTSD after his fall, and this is registered very strongly with the screentime lent to him after the incident. I’m particularly talking about this aspect of the film, because these are emotional events we don’t often see being documented on screen, probably because of how inexplicable or confounding the behaviour can be to a mainstream audience that’s asking for emotional notes that are easier to comprehend.
  • Another reason I’d call this film well “constructed”, is for the beyond-competent work that the technical crew has delivered. Costume designer Mashar Hamsa’s deliberately odd choices for the 2006 setting, and production designer Ajayan Chalissery’s seamlessly invisible work, are major wins. Cinematographer Shyju Khalid, along with colorist Srik Varier, develop a gorgeous, vignette-ish (the frames are darker towards the corners) look to take us back in time. The entire film feels like an extended photo album from that time, accentuated by the 16:9(?) aspect ratio. The studios that might have worked in tandem for VFX deserve a note too, for how they don’t falter at key junctures, something that can yank us out of the experience of watching a film in this particular genre.
  • One of the other false notes I felt, are the slightly performative Tamil characters in a rather naturally Malayali milieu. But I believe that cannot be helped as much, since I find these two industries to have largely different schools of acting. While Tamil cinema plays it towards the theatrical, with actors emoting to be heard across the gallery, Malayalam cinema has its actors trying to stay within their lived reality. Disclaimer: No school is better than the other, and both can be as affecting as the other on any given day. Let’s say they speak through the same language of the camera, but just follow different tone of voice. 

Those are it, I guess. And this recent run of Malayalam cinema, feels like my equivalent of your favourite sport club’s winning streak. 


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