Kolambi, On MTalkie, Is Gorgeous But Also Incredibly Indulgent, Film Companion

Director: TK Rajeev Kumar

Cast: Renji Panicker, Rohini, Nithya Menen

TK Rajeev Kumar’s Kolambi (Loudspeaker) spends no time establishing its syncretic ambitions. Set in and around multi-cultural Mattancherry, it brings together a set of quirky characters that tick almost every box in the diversity logbook. The film’s central couple (played by the lovely Rohini and even better Renji Panicker) represent the religious Hindu-Brahmin and her communist husband. Their neighbours and closest friends are Christian, Anglo-Indian and the Maulvi from a mosque nearby. Anuradha (Nithya Menen), the outsider who enters this motley group, is an artist you can call a global citizen. But the language that binds them, as the title suggests, is music. 

By music, it isn’t just the songs and the score that have been created specifically for the film. Music also functions as part of our collective memory, giving these people a familiarity, a context and a home. In the film’s most abstract scene, we see the husband and Anuradha walk through a hall lined with loudspeakers. Each loudspeaker has a number on it, representing a year and the significant event the speaker was a part of. But the use of sound and music is so careful, that the effect it creates sweeps away time, giving you the feeling that you’re listening to history, as it happens. This includes the stammering from a certain important swearing-in ceremony, the songs of KPAC or even Sambasivan’s performance of Othello. Through one long tracking shot, we get a capsule of Kerala’s history passed down like pearls of wisdom by these loudspeakers. 

This is the same part of our hearts the film wants to appeal to in another scene that involves a bit of musical history as well. In a meta moment, Vijay Yesduas visits this couple to convince the old man to give him Yesudas’ first microphone. At that moment, the old man plays on his gramophone a Hindu devotional song sung by Augustine Joseph, Vijay’s grandfather and Yesudas’ father. In one great scene, the film combines its syncretic values and its love for all things old and musical. 

Kolambi, On MTalkie, Is Gorgeous But Also Incredibly Indulgent, Film Companion

Scenes like these are why these antiquated relics become important to us as it is to the lead couple. It’s also important to the plot because this couple runs a peculiar tea shop that requires the customer (or listener?) to request an old classic along with their tea. All this old-world charm and excessive romanticism does a number on you, at least in the beginning, because the film makes you see the world like the old couple sees it, with all its slow-paced glory. 

But the film seldom remains still, always trying to add to this the stories of all the people who live around the couple. From the couple struggling to keep their music cafe alive, it then adds an angle about a Muslim friend and his citizenship troubles, apart from Anuradha’s own issues with both love and family. At the midway mark, one strand gets abandoned for another and you begin to feel like these are disjointed pieces being pushed together without any glue to hold it together. 

In a way, instead of a story about many people and their many issues, it begins to feel like a kaleidoscope with the film changing every 20 minutes or so. At one point, the cafe’s impending closure no longer becomes important, just as we’re fed with the information that Anuradha is against getting married. The film also uses a lot of time to create drama when Anuradha loses touch with the old couple, but the reason given doesn’t justify the outcome. This inconsistency leads to the third act as well when another important piece of information is unloaded as a surprise even to important characters in the film. 

A lot of this goes unnoticed because of how earnestly Renji Panicker is able to play the hard-of-hearing lover of music. We also want to overlook a lot of the gaps in the stories because almost all of Ravi Varman’s frames look like paintings. But when the writing feels forced, pretentious and scattered, you find yourself letting of the film and the characters you liked until then. After that, all one can do is admire Kolambi from a distance, wondering if a screenshot of it would work nicely as a screensaver. 

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