Kayamkulam Kochunni movie cast: Nivin Pauly, Mohanlal, Priya Anand, Babu Antony
Kayamkulam Kochunni movie director: Rosshan Andrrews
Kayamkulam Kochunni movie rating: 2 stars
Kayamkulam Kochunni, a Robin Hood-esque thief, has a very special place in Malayalam folklore. He was immortalized in comic books too. I have read Amar Chitra Katha’s Kochunni, which tells the story of a boy who aspires to escape the clutches of poverty and the shame of being a thief’s son. He runs away to a nearby village, meets a kindhearted Brahmin, who first feeds him and then gets him a job at his friend’s shop. The boy grows up to be a gentle and kind person. He makes an honest living but never really gets accepted into society. For many, he is still the son of a thief, who can go rogue at any moment. His determination finally cracks and he decides to meet the expectations of the society: He becomes a thief. But, one who robs the rich and feeds the poor. Through the course of his journey as an outlaw, he grows into a hero for the downtrodden. But he ends up in jail and dies in there while repenting his actions.
Director Rosshan Andrrews and screenwriters Bobby and Sanjay have been extremely loyal to the comic book, adapting it for the big screen. Their movie Kayamkulam Kochunni, more or less, plays out like a graphic book novel with moving pictures. The filmmakers have taken a very linear approach to narrating the tale of a flawed folk hero.
The movie deviates from the comic book on a few points. Unlike Kochunni in the comic book, Rosshan’s Kochunni (Nivin Pauly) is free of complexities, moral dilemma, self-doubts and thus unburdened by the need to continue the course of his inner journey. That has not worked in favour of the movie. Set in feudal Kerala, caste and religion play an important role in the movie. When Kochunni, a Muslim, reveals his desires to marry Janaki (Priya Anand), a girl from Hindu lower caste, it brings the evil out of the noblemen in his village.
After a flimsily written treasure hunt scene, the wicked men of his village frame Kochunni in a case and brand him as a thief. Janaki is humiliated in front of everyone and banished. And then Ithikkara Pakki (Mohanlal) storms the village and rescues Kochunni from dying of hanging upside down under the hot sun. Mohanlal brings the much-needed energy to the screen with his performance as a seasoned bandit. The stretch involving Mohanlal is easily the interesting part of the movie. With him going to his next mission, the film again falls flat with a predictable narration.
Ithikkara Pakki’s only job was to convince Kochunni to become a bandit and train him on horse riding, pull-ups, pushups, hanging situps, and… how to not die while hanging by the neck. Remember, it is not Kochunni’s first training montage. He is an expert in kalaripayattu and the top student of Thangal (Babu Antony), a legendary kalaripayattu master.
Now that Kochunni has enough reasons and training to rob the rich, he starts doing it. Only to be betrayed by his own people. But the betrayals in the movie make little to no impact. They don’t really come as a surprise because we see them coming a mile away. The only surprise is how Kochunni missed them.
The role of British Raj in the movie is another sketchy part of the film. Take out the British from the equation and still, it won’t make much difference to the story the writers wanted to say.
Writers Bobby and Sanjay could have made the film more dark and gritty, instead of making it a simple black-and-white story told in broad strokes. It’s unclear why the writers were so keen on exonerating Kochunni.