‘Kumbalangi Nights’ review: Life and love in a beautiful, borderless isle

A still from 'Kumbalangi Nights'

A still from 'Kumbalangi Nights'   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Turning toxic masculinity on its head

Shammi has the thickest moustache in town. He single-handedly beats to pulp a group of men who dare to enter his home. He is ‘decent’ by the conventional conservative standards, always has a smile on his face, even when he hears unpleasant things. He gets a scene where he admires his face and utters “the complete man”. In a different movie, Shammi, played by Fahadh Fazil, would be the "hero" (as he refers to himself), strutting around to a rousing background score.

Kumbalangi Nights
  • Starring: Soubin Shahir, Fahadh Fazil, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi, Anna Ben
  • Direction: Madhu.C.Narayanan

But in ‘Kumbalangi Nights’, he is not a hero. Nor are there any other heros, for that matter; only flawed, broken humans trying to stay afloat and make space for one another, be they like or unlike them.

Brothers Saji (Soubin Shahir), Bony (Sreenath Bhasi), Bobby (Shane Nigam) and Frankie live in a house in the margins of a ‘wasteland’, in a home devoid of borders, and also women, after their mother left them. Not everything is pleasant here. The elder brothers, with no proper job to speak of and little inclination to find one, are constantly fighting. So much so that Frankie, the youngest and the most responsible of the lot, dubs theirs the “worst house in the panchayat”.

Bobby, one of these incomplete men, falls in love with Baby (Anna Ben), Shammi’s sister-in-law, setting the stage for a collision that would change everyone involved. Madhu. C. Narayanan has the cushion of Syam Pushkaran’s perceptive and subtle writing for his directorial debut; even so he makes a mark of his own, helming the beautiful coming together of all the elements that make this film what it is. The visuals of the nights, when all the key events happen, and the background score that leaves an impression even though you may not notice it right away and add to the effect.


In keeping with the spirit of the film, there are no insignificant characters. Even the ones who appear for just a moment linger in your mind, like the mother, who makes her presence felt through her sons. Soubin Shahir stands tall among the performers, bringing a lot of warmth and pathos to his role. Fahadh, who had begun to repeat himself in his recent roles, breaks out of the mould here, with a cold smile that can send chills down your spine.

Celebrations of masculinity and patriarchy have clearly been on the way out in Malayalam cinema of recent times. Syam Pushkaran adds his twopence to the conversation, but by using masculinity itself as a tool to correct the many wrongs of the past few decades. He turns it into something that is laughable, into something which is out of sync with the mores of the changing times. The only ones who don’t realise it though are the practitioners of the ‘art’ of masculinity, as Fahadh’s Shammi here is.


The women in the film, be it Baby or her elder sister (who, for the most part, plays the ‘obedient wife’) are not ones in need of the help of a “strong” man. They stand up on their own when it matters, not waiting for the knight in shining armour to burst into the scene.

But even amid all these memorable characters, that house in the ‘wasteland’ is the soul of the film, a house which, in an era where we are building walls and laws to keep out the ‘others’, always seems to have space for one more person. The night is beautiful in the borderless isles of Kumbalangi.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 8:06:39 AM |

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