Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Manjummel Boys is not flawless, barely survives in its search of a great tale on friendship


In Chidambaram’s Manjummel Boys, everything exists for a reason. The simple game of tug-of-war. The friend who is the loudest in the group, annoying others every single time. These little breadcrumbs of information proceed to attain a greater meaning in the later scenes of the film. It instantly spins an effective dramatic tension into the syntax of this survival thriller. Yet, what exactly is Manjummel Boys about? Is it a story of friendship? Is it a story of human persistence and courage? Or is it about the callousness of a bunch of men who refuse to grow up, until a tragic incident alters their perspective on life altogether? (Also read: Manjummel Boys OTT release: When and where to watch the Malayalam hit)

A still from Manjummel Boys.

Every single detail counts

For a film like Manjummel Boys, which carefully calibrates the tiniest of character traits to pull off a nail-biting survival thriller, these questions pose a thematic ambiguity that feels strangely sidelined. The Malayalam language film opened to thunderous reception from audiences, becoming one of the highest grossing films of the year so far. The reception was equally strong in noting the technical mastery of the film in depicting a real-life incident with such intensity. It was hailed as a story that celebrates friendship. One act of courage, when a man risks his life to save a friend who falls in a cave. It is an impossible task, made possible because of this unshakeable human determination.

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Yet, when Soubin Shahir’s Siju David aka ‘Kuttan’ raises his hand and steps forward to go down the hole and save his friend Subhash (a terrific performance from Sreenath Bhasi), the particular move does not remind the viewer of a connection between these two friends. Except that we know it was Kuttan who tugged at Subhash to join the trip in the first place. It was his doing, and now that Subhash is in this unforeseen situation, it is but his responsibility to rescue him. Yet, Manjummel Boys is not keen on nourishing the strong bond that these two friends share; the history of their relationship, and their shared trust, to underline any valid reason that this is a story foremost about the power of friendship. We know little about Kuttan in the first place, to partake in any sort of connection with him as a viewer. He is simply a man who is trustworthy, the one who is thought of as rational and reasonable. Is he a great friend? What are his fears? Who does he confide in? He comes to be defined only by his singular and selfless act of courage that day.

What doesn’t work

It is not mandatory for a film to carve a definitive backstory of a character to make the evolution of their journey work. Yet, the absence of a sense of bond between Kuttan and Subhash leaves a gaping hole in the narrative of Manjummel Boys which it refuses to acknowledge. This subtext could have enriched the narrative and propelled it to new heights. The ambiguity of Subhash’s state of mind, for instance, is fascinatingly told. Subhash’s hallucinations, where he is inside the cave, trapped, shivering, and walking with no clothes on, add a surprising and excellent detail to his character. Such ambiguity is a welcome change in the persistent tendencies of the screenplay for the large part.

In the end, we see Kuttan achieve a certain god-like respect and admiration for his bravery. He doesn’t know how to respond to it. There is also a brief scene where Subhash is seen as a god-like figure by a group of locals after he is pulled from the confines of the cave. He feels strange, and there is no indication of where this devotion leads to. Manjummel Boys states these moments as it is, unsure of its perspective on faith- in the personal as well as the socio-political. Where does this faith reside in mere mortals? Why does it end up taking the shape of a sense of conformity? These ideas are never quite graspable amid the chaos that surrounds the narrative.

What Manjummel Boys does in ample amounts is provide thrill and a deeply chilling account of a real-life incident. In the last segment where Kuttan goes inside the cave and finds Subhash holds tremendous power. It left me breathless. However, what Manjummel Boys lacks is a sense of perspective. On what it means to care for a friend. On what it tells us about willpower. On what it means to care for someone in a ruthless world. The film exists as a formal depiction, unfolding like a thriller. The rationality in human nature, perhaps, exists in a sort of correlation with the extraordinary. There is no way to describe it. Perhaps that is how one should enter into the frenzy, inconsistency, and wonder that is Manjummel Boys.

Manjummel Boys is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.

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