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Home > News > Opinion News > Article > Sheer magic of Mallu Manjummel

Sheer magic of Mallu Manjummel

Updated on: 13 March,2024 06:47 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

How a survival drama with a band of boys signifies Kerala cinema coming of (young) age!

Sheer magic of Mallu Manjummel

A still from the Malayalam film Manjummel Boys

Mayank ShekharNo, I don’t recall the last time I stepped into a fully packed theatre for a film, over a fortnight after its release, with audiences automatically erupting to its opening background score, to start with.

The movie that follows, including a banger of a rap number, in the subsequent sequence, has viewers responding to every minute thereafter. 

Eventually, I find my hands holding my forehead, in absolute exasperation, yelling from the second row, albeit under my breath: “No, no, no… C’mon, c’mon, c’mon….” 

That’s the sheer, visceral magic of a movie, for a concert-like experience, inhaled from the get go. Rest is Oscar, Filmfare, film criticism, and other falana dhimkana. The crowd, suitably at a hall in Mumbai’s Chembur suburb, appears totally Tamil to me. 

They instantly recognise the Ilaiyaraaja song, Kanmani anbodu kadhalan, for that opening track; equally deftly employed in the film’s climax. It’s from the Kamal Haasan starrer, Gunaa (1991). 

Also, the camera grazes a rock for a split second, with the words, “Vijay Fans” smeared on it, and the audiences collectively spot it with the loudest guffaw of recognition.

Kamal Hassan in a still from the 1991 film Gunaa. Pics/X
Kamal Hassan in a still from the 1991 film Gunaa. Pics/X

But, hey, this is a Malayalam movie that Tamilians are goin’ nuts over, no? Yup; Kochi director Chidambaram’s Manjummel Boys (2024), that’s surpassed footfalls worth way over Rs 100 crore, as we speak. 

Quite often, even for Malayali audiences, the blockbuster-mainstream flows in the opposite direction; namely, from Telugu and Tamil into Kerala cinemas.

Which, in turn, of course, has inspired Hindi cinema to go the same route of colossally budgeted mad-actioners, centred on heroism of the superstar. 

Mallu superstars, like their films, are subdued and progressive enough to show up in theatres, as, say, a quiet, gay man, like Mammooty in Kaathal - The Core (2023), inspiring The New York Times to title a long-form piece, “Beyond Bollywood’s glitz, a subtler Indian cinema emerges: In a change of pace, nuanced films find box-office success.”

Sure. Does that sufficiently describe Manjummel Boys? Well, not really. It isn’t as inherently adult and obviously introspective. 

Also, it’s not that I haven’t watched spectacle-cinema on the big screen in Malayalam before. Jude Anthany Joseph’s 2018 (2023), set during Kerala floods from the year of its title, should count. 

I gracelessly exited the preview theatre, with a mild headache, mid-way through that disaster flick. Only to be unpleasantly shocked later that it had been sent in as India’s entry to the Oscars! Ah, what? 

Especially, when you compare it to the power and prowess of Malayalam movies in general, like Kumbalangi Nights (2019), even Sudani from Nigeria (2018). Mentioning merely two, since both star the old, genial, balding, Soubin Shahir; also, the lead in Manjummel Boys. 

But, no, this isn’t about the lead/star. It’s a rare ensemble-cast film that genuinely draws you in with immense empathy, intense love, for the entire group of 11 characters in it. You view them as one. Who are these men, calling themselves Manjummel Boys? 

Generically speaking, The Great Indian Rowdy Gang, hooting, swinging on trees, perhaps swigging cheap rum off hip-flasks, generally playing the fool, at various Indian tourist destinations. These guys from Kochi, who’ve grown up together, wished to head to Goa, first. 

If they did, they would be the exact opposite of the genteel, impossibly upper-class Bandra trio from Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai (2001). 

Manjummel Boys is similarly set in BC, i.e. Before Cellphones era, certainly before super-smartphones; specifically, 2006. That these happy fellas set off to Kodaikanal makes me wonder if Kodai is to South India, what Goa is to the North Indian sausage-fest?

Well, their choice is also determined by their love for the Tamil film Gunaa, which was shot in Kodai. Given film locations can make for such amazing tourist trails. I’d love to similarly map one around Mani Ratnam movies. Places even get named after films shot there. 

Chapora Fort in Goa is now ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ Fort. 

The hellishly infinite cave in Kodaikanal, once rightly named the Devil’s Kitchen, is called Gunaa Cave since that film. That’s the centre of action in Manjummel Boys, which is essentially a survival drama. 

In a way that director Danny Boyle could learn from—infusing some of the joy-of-life from Slumdog Millionaire (2008), with the survival drama, similarly about human entrapment in a canyon, 127 Hours (2010), that Boyle filmed right after. 

As with 127 Hours, Manjummel Boys is a true story. Which could also be a reason you sense goosebumps as it unfolds—feeling choked, then chuffed? 

Strangely, like many I notice on YouTube comments, the first thing I did after Manjummel isn’t to check on the actual incident it’s based on. But click on Gunaa (on Prime Video). That’s the level of homage. 

It’s a bizarre kinda love story, where the mentally challenged protagonist, Guna (Haasan), abducts a gorgeous, rich woman, knowing her to be the apsara from his lifelong fantasy. 

The tragedy’s got a potent, poignant point, though. I can see why Gunaa wasn’t a blockbuster, but it gathered a cult following, post-Internet. 

The film I wanted to do a double-bill with the master storyteller Chidambaram’s second, Manjummel Boys, is actually his first, Jan.E.Man (2021). Oops, nowhere on an OTT. Which is probably where you’re waiting for Manjummel to drop? Oh, you’ve missed a concert then!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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