Kurup Dulquer Salmaan
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Anthony Perumbavoor, one of the biggest producers of the Malayalam film industry announced last week that his mega-budget Mohanlal film Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham would only get an OTT release. Reported to be Amazon Prime Video’s big Christmas offering, this decision to avoid a theatre release means that the industry would lose out on a spectacle that was expected to single-handedly bring back audiences to theatres after the second lockdown. Given that Minnal Murali, the first superhero movie in the language, would also be heading the OTT way has further hurt prospects of theatres in the State heading towards pre-Pandemic normalcy. To add insult to injury, Perumbavoor also announced that the next five films, all starring the industry’s biggest star Mohanlal, would go to OTT.  

While the Superhero movie and the story of Kerala’s great naval chief (Kunjali Marakkar) heads to OTT, could the biopic of a criminal save theatres from further losses? 

A reported 400 screens in Kerala have been earmarked for the release of Kurup. Dulquer Salmaan’s film, inspired by the life of fugitive Sukumara Kurup, will get one of the widest releases, albeit with a 50 per cent cap on seating. 

 

What makes Kurup even bigger is that it would also release in multiple languages including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. It is directed by Srinath Rajendran, who had also made Dulquer’s first film Second Show. The film also stars Sobhita Dhulipala, Sunny Wayn, Shine Tom Chacko and Indrajith Sukumaran. 

Despite the excitement of a big release, the marketing campaign of the film came under criticism on social media when t-shirts were launched with the film’s title ‘Kurup’ written on it. Given that Kurup is based on a real-life criminal who had murdered a man named Chacko, the campaign’s sensitivity was questioned considering Chacko’s wife and son are still alive. With the campaign suggesting that Kurup could justify, or even glamourise the life of this criminal, the makers had to show the movie to Chacko’s son Jithin to explain that they had no intention to white-wash the fugitive’s chequered history. 

Who Is Sukumara Kurup, anyway? 

Written by K. S. Aravind, Jithin K. Jose and Daniell Sayooj Nair, Kurup is said to be a fictionalised account of the life of  real-life fugitive Sukumara Kurup, described in the trailer as the “story of India’s longest wanted criminal”. Most notorious for staging his own death to claim a huge life insurance payout (Rs. 30 lakh in 1984), Kurup is also part of Malayali popular culture for being on the run for more than three decades. 

The aforementioned Chacko, a 30-something film representative, was chosen because his physique matched that of Kurup’s. Along with the help of his relatives, the victim was poisoned and then burned inside an Ambassador car to make it seem as though it was Kurup who had died. Even though his accomplices were caught, the police have not been able to catch Sukumara Kurup. His escape route is said to have taken him to places as vast as Bhutan, the Andamans, Assam and Bhopal. 

Dulquer, during a recent interview, stated that the film’s scope would extend beyond Chacko’s murder. According to this article in The Week, Kurup has faked his death once before this incident. Originally named Gopalkrishna Pillai, the fugitive is said to have bribed an Army Officer to avoid being taken back to the Indian Army Medical Corps, where he had joined after completing his schooling. He did so by asking the officer to return with a fake death certificate to avoid going back to Corps. 

He named himself Sukumara Kurup and moved to the Middle East. Although very little is revealed in terms of how much of his life would be shown in the film, it is reasonably clear that it could begin with the crime itself, leading to flashbacks showing his time in Pune at the Medical Corps. A recent song launch also suggests that this would include his love affair with Sarasamma (played by Sobhita Dhulipala), a trainee nurse who worked there who later became his wife. 

 

Kurup in the movies 

Kurup has long captured Malayalam cinema’s imagination. In addition to several films that have references to Kurup, especially when talking about a criminal who is on the run, Malayalam cinema has also had two broad adaptations that have taken parts from his story. 

Most recently, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Pinneyum (2016) narrated the story of a man named Purushothaman Nair (Dileep) who stages his own death to claim an insurance payout. Although the director has never confirmed it, the film had many scenes that drew inspiration from the case including the use of an Ambassdor as the central prop in the aforementioned murder. But instead of showing the life of a criminal on the run, the film addressed the question of what the fugitive’s family would go through after his escape. 

Set in the backdrop of an ordinary middle-class family, Nair is never shown as a hero, nor is the character glamourised. Instead, the film focuses on Nair’s return to his family after his long exile. He undergoes face reconstructive plastic surgery (Dileep gets replaced with Subodh Bhave) and it deals with his wife’s reaction on seeing him again.   

Back in 1984, when the case had begun to take over public imagination, another film was made based primarily on the murder incident alone. Tilted NH-47, it was directed by Baby and the film begins with the return of a rich NRI named Sudhakaran Pillai (played by TG Ravi). But Pillai is just one among a long list of important characters. More than him, the film uses his three accomplices and their backstories to establish the whys and the hows of the case. With these characters narrating their version of what happened on the night of the incident, we piece together the reality of what happened with the murder. 

Interestingly, the character based on Chacko too is given a lot of importance in NH-47. The character is played by erstwhile star Sukumaran and instead of a Christian, the character becomes a Muslim named Rahim. The film even features his love story and his family dynamics,  purportedly to create sympathy for Kurup’s victim. 

A part of 2016’s Ranveer Shorey-Neha Dhupia Hindi film Moh Maya Money too draws certain elements from the Sukumara Kurup case. In the drama directed by Munish Bhardwaj, a middle-class couple get together to fake the husband’s death to claim his life insurance amount. In the film, the crime is committed (it’s a Honda City here) to escape from a preying loan shark and the protagonist’s “middle class life”. 

 

With Kurup releasing this week, the film brings alive the history of an infamous criminal to a whole new generation. Helped by Dulquer’s star power and the wide release, a big hit could just be the ‘most wanted’ the whole industry has been chasing for long.

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