The director of Kumbalangi Nights lived on the island for more than a year to understand the lives of the people, their culture and politics
It takes a village to make Kumbalangi Nights. And that village has changed the life of Madhu C Narayanan, director of Kumbalangi Nights, 2019’s first big hit in Malayalam.
Admitting that he is living his dream, Madhu is unable to find the right words to express his happiness. “It is exhilarating to find that we [the team that worked in the film] were able to convey what we had wanted to. The politics in the film has been understood and is being discussed in many reviews,” says Madhu.
Part of Aashiq Abu’s team from the Daddy Cool days, Aashiq’s first as a director, Madhu has been waiting for the last 10 years to make a film on his own.
Scenarist Syam Pushkaran had narrated the story of Kumbalangi Nights while they were working on Salt N’ Pepper, Syam’s first film in 2011. When Madhu decided to make his first feature film, he decided to choose this story for the screen. Kumbalangi happens to be near Syam’s place and the writer had a close friend staying on the island, where he had spent many nights.
It was during those days that Syam got the idea of a story from the village. “Both of us became busy with different projects but we kept the project alive while working in different films of Aashiq ettan and Dileesh ettan [Dileesh Pothan],” says Madhu. It was after Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum was completed that they got down to work on Kumbalangi Nights.
Madhu C Narayanan on the sets of ‘Kumbalangi Nights’
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Set in the scenic island of Kumbalangi, near Kochi, it is a moving story of a dysfunctional family of four brothers living in an unfinished house. Each of the brothers is smarting from wounds inflicted by fate and circumstances. As each one stumbles ahead, they learn to make peace with their past and embrace hope.
“Syam and I have been working together at every stage of the film. Actors playing the main roles such as Soubin, Shane Nigam and Sreenath Bhasi are all good friends of mine and so it became easy to communicate what we had in mind. And the film’s producers happen to be my friends and mentors,” explains the 40-year-old filmmaker from Shoranur.
He adds: “As a disciple of Aashiq ettan and Dileesh ettan, I know how important it is to pay attention to detail. So, I became one of the residents of the island to get a feel of the place and the residents.”
Once the script was done and the cast was finalised, Madhu rented a house in Kumbalangi and stayed there for a year-and-a-half to learn about the lives of the villagers, their dialect and culture. Many of the actors in the cast were chosen during auditions held at Kumbalangi itself, explains Madhu. He left the house just two days before the shooting of the film began.
He adds with a smile that Soubin, Shane and Sreenath were all cast before their breakthrough acts in 2018. Why was Fahadh Faasil, the actor on a roll, cast in a negative role as a typical Malayali alpha male? “I felt he was the best to play Shammi, who is so concerned about his image. Fahadh enjoyed the role and the script so much that he agreed to become one of the producers of the film,” recalls the filmmaker.
Madhu C Narayanan with Soubin Shahir on the sets of ‘Kumbalangi Nights’
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Thanking the producers for their unstinting support, Madhu says the unfinished house that the brothers stayed in was built specifically for the film. Since they were unable to find a house that suited their needs, the producers agreed to get a house built for the project.
Crediting Syam for the excellent characterisation of each of the characters in the film, Madhu says the scenarist also wanted to depict the toxic masculinity that passes of as heroism in Kerala. Madhu elaborates: “Even when we take pride in our advancements as a society, there are many Shammis in our society. If you scratch the surface, their misogyny pops up. A few words of theirs are all that is needed to expose them.”
Madhu is all praise for Syam for getting all the cues right in a story with such a wide canvas. He believes that this is Syam’s best script.
Agreeing that Shyju Khalid’s poetic frames complement the film, Madhu points out that the close ties between him and Shyju meant that they were able to understand each other without any hassles, and so any discussions about the frames were obviated.
Still getting used to the huge success of the film, Madhu says he is listening to stories but has not signed up a project.
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