Android Kunjappan – a leap for vernacular cinema

A vernacular cinema from South India pioneered an experiment in science fiction like no other industry has by far. Android Kunjappan is, in that regard, a movie worth every laurel because it experimented with science fiction, but in a setup so rural that the house the robot dwelled in had literally no other electronic equipment. It’s not that cringe old plotline of a robot coming alive and falling in love with another character. This one is novel and beautiful on new levels of vernacular cinema; even for Mollywood.

Android Kunjappan is a movie where a rather exhausted son brings home a robot to take care of his demanding father who fired home nurses left and right. Of course, after the initial cynicism, the father ends up loving the robot so much that when the time comes for him to give it up; he gives his son a lengthy monologue about love and care and flees with the robot. A couple of more monologues later, the good old message that machines can never replace humans is conveyed and all ends well. A couple of aspects of the movie that other reviewers have left out seemed to appeal to me more.

The first factor isn’t as much about the movie as it is about one of the emotional constituents of the story. It was quite natural that the father ends up loving the robot so much because a robot, by definition, caters to the commanding nature he has been known for. It does not disobey or get frustrated like his son or the home nurses did. He even learns extremely fast the patterns and demands of the irritatingly old-school household and functions accordingly. The love that Bhaskaran, the father, feels for the robot is perhaps rooted in that very fact that Kunjappan, the robot, does not have free will. It isn’t a fatherly affection; it is in fact the contentment of being served without question. This kind of love isn’t possible with humans because people have their limits when it comes to dealing with difficult people which is why Bhaskaran was generally disliked by everyone else. Kunjappan made no complaints, and Bhaskaran developed all kinds of loving feelings towards him/it.

Coming to the dynamics of the movie. For a South Indian movie, this concept and its execution are completely new but there are movies like ‘her’ where people tend to fall in love and get protective of machines. At the end, they learn to regard people more but the journey of it is the challenge for a film maker. What is amazing about Android Kunjappan is that the complete story takes place in the most unlikely setting for a science fiction. On that end, this movie is one of the most well executed movies I have seen.

Thanks to the lack of budget, the makers created Kunjappan in physical form and actually had an actor play it instead of VFX. And of course the cute factor played out beyond perfection because Kunjappan is a heartthrob all through. Like that cute alien from Koi Mil Gaya, you simply fall in love with Kunjappan and root for him to be Bhaskaran’s wingman. And that baggy shirt, the big Bermuda shorts and the adorable lungi he gets clad in connect him straight to our hearts; which is definitely a big element in making the audience root for him.

I could say that other than Kunjappan and his placement in the household, the emotional aspects of the movie are rather slow. Also, some Malayalam movies really could do without incorporating Hinduism in the supposedly funny or revolutionary scenes. Unbecoming characters clad as Hindu deities parading angrily on the streets, Hindu priests being put to their place over ‘oppressive norms’, frustrated mockery of rituals that no one at the venue seems to understand and so on have become tedious already in movies that quite clearly do not require those elements. If only good Malayalam movies could move on from religious inclinations, we would actually have flawless results.

Android Kunjappan is nonetheless a masterstroke that Mollywood can claim to its name as a pioneer in experimental cinema. The very fact that Ratheesh Poduval gave the idea a go is worthy of praise.

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