Film: Kunjananthante Kada (Malayalam)

Director: Salim Ahamed

Cast: Mammootty, Nyla Usha, Balachandra Menon, Siddique

A debut film that swept the National and State Film Awards. Screenings across the globe at prominent film festivals.

India’s Oscar entry in 2011. Rave reviews and much critical acclaim.

That’s a whole lot of baggage to handle. It is difficult to sweep those expectations under the carpet and view a director’s second film without drawing parallels to a brilliant first. It has almost been two years since Salim Ahamed’s Abu effortlessly walked into our hearts.

When Kunjananthan opened shop this weekend, the comparisons were inevitable.

In the imposing shadow of a frail Abu, Kunjananthan appears dwarf-like. But, nevertheless, the makers of Kunjananthante Kada deserve an objective review.

The idea of the neighbourhood provision store which becomes a point of reference in conversations, a meeting place, and even a landmark over time strikes an immediate chord with the viewer. So does the image of the shopkeeper behind jars of mouth-watering goodies.

His deep bond with the shop he inherits, carrying memories of filial affection and his refusal to part with it would have gone on to be a great story. One that would have cemented Salim Ahamed’s place in Malayalam cinema. But, only if he had remembered that the script is at the soul of a film.

Kunjananthan (Mammootty) manages a provision store in a small village in Kannur. Resigned to an unhappy marriage, it is this shop that is at the centre of his existence.

The owner of the building pleads with him to vacate the shop so he may settle his debts, but Kunjananthan does not relent.

Eviction, however, seems unavoidable when the government tries to acquire land for a road development project. Kunjanthan’s travails to retain the shop form the second-half of the film.

The film has everything else going for it.

A good story that offers a delightful peek into small town life, one that has been pushed to the fringes by filmmakers today.

The throbbing life in villages and the distinctive Kannur slang are refreshing. So are performances by a stellar cast – Mammootty as the eponymous hero, debutant Nyla Usha as his wife, Balachandra Menon as a self-taught lawyer and Siddique as the building’s owner.

Excellent background score by Issac Thomas Kottukappilly, music by M. Jayachandran and sound editing by Resul Pookkutty.

Stunning visuals by veteran cinematographer Madhu Ambat. Some good observations on development and growth, and comments on a Facebook-crazy, smartphone-addicted population. The ingredients are all just right, but without the chef’s master touch, the film ends up being a half-baked cake.

There are no easy answers to the development-displacement debate, and the filmmaker loses direction once he has swerved to take that giddy route.

With a storyline that fizzles out in the second half, the film leaves you unmoved.

Forget Adaminte Makan Abu, its many laurels, the director who held out a lot of promise and watch this one without strings attached. And you may be a little less disappointed.

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