Nivin Pauly proves once again that he is a “Safe Zone” actor with Kayamkulam Kochunni.
The cast is packed with known names. Priya Anand does a decent job of playing the unpredictable Janaki, as does Sunny Wayne in a meaty role as Kochunni’s bete noir Keshava – neither of them is great, but they are fair enough. Mohanlal appears late in the film as that other legendary highway robber, Ithikkara Pakki, and lends an animalistic touch to his performance as a brigand with a heart of gold. The camera is careful not to pull out too far when his character is throwing punches, which is a good thing because it has been a long time since Lalettan has looked convincing in action scenes. However, his screen presence and star stature give this character the weight it deserves despite this being only an extended cameo.
Shine Tom Chacko stands out among the able supporting actors, playing a Brahmin with empathy for Dalits.
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.
Although the movie fails to bring in a big transformation of the character from mere Kochunni to Kayamkulam Kochunni the art department and tight editing make one root for the fast-paced drama.Kayamkulam Kochunni is neither a perfect historic film nor a film without any flaws. Try watching it without high expectations to get maximum satisfaction.