Kurup Dulquer Salmaan

Director: Srinath Rajendran
Cast: Dulquer Salmaan, Sobhita Dhulipala, Manoj Bajpayee, Tovino Thomas, Indrajith Sukumaran, Shine Tom Chacko, Sunny Wayne
Language: Malayalam

Arguably the biggest risk Srinath Rajendran takes with his true-crime opus Kurup is the way he’s chosen to structure its screenplay. We enter its world through the pages of a diary belonging to senior police officer Krishnadas (Indrajith), a day after his retirement. As his colleagues deliver speeches celebrating his illustrious career, you realise how even his thirty-year-long service is defined by just one case—that of Kurup and the man he conspired to kill named Charlie.  

The use of this ‘personal’ diary as a narrative tool yields fascinating results. To begin with, it allows the film the space for various perspectives because it isn’t an official case file. With the writing (especially the titles of chapters) in this diary resembling the laboured poetics of an amateur crime novelist, we piece together Kurup’s life through confessions of several narrators, each with their own understanding of his personality. In terms of screenplay, it resembles the structure employed in Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mukhamukham or Shaji N Karun’s Kutty Srank with each new narrator adding a layer of flesh to this missing person. 

To Peter (Sunny Wayne), his colleague from the air force training institute, Kurup (or Gopikrishnan then) was the mischievous best friend one can count on to help achieve one’s dreams. To his brother-in-law Bhasi Pillai (an excellent Shine Tom Chacko), Kurup appears far more manipulative with the skill to extract the worst out of seemingly decent people. And to his lover Sharada (Sobhita Dhulipala), Kurup is charming and upright, determined to build a better future together. As for the viewer, we gather that the real Kurup is both all of the above and none of the above at the same time. 

Along with Krishnadas’ own additions to the mythmaking, a large part of Kurup is an attempt to answer one question: Who was/is Kurup? In the pursuit of this answer, it chooses to relegate dramatic events to the background and for a film about a criminal most notorious for staging his own death, the crime takes up only a small part of the screenplay. Instead, the crime is recreated with great efficiency to make way for other pursuits. But even this position is abandoned soon with the second half transforming into a countrywide chase with Krishnadas’ efforts at capturing Kurup. And suddenly ‘Where is Kurup’ becomes more important than ‘Who is Kurup’.

For a film that starts off trying to capture the essence of a dangerous mind, it soon limits itself to low hanging fruit. As a person always looking for shortcuts, we seldom get insights into how this seemingly normal person from a normal family turns into a monster. It’s as though the film is either working hard to show us Dr. Jekyl OR Mr Hyde, but never the transformation. 

Dulquer Salmaan’s Kurup Seduces With Scale And Style, Limiting Itself To Surface-Level Pleasures, Film Companion

And this is disappointing because the sprawling screenplay could have made room for a bit of introspection. It takes several creative liberties and a large part of his story is revealed through first-person accounts by Kurup himself. But even this device is used simply to list out a series of escapes or manipulations that make Kurup appear smarter. Take for instance Kurup’s change of strategy when he notices an army of ants marching. It’s a visual tool employed to show how Kurup survived for so long by running towards his captors instead of running away from them. But despite this setup, this approach is used in just one instance, that too for an obvious escape. 

So when you look back at his life to see what Kurup has actually done, it appears to be a series of gross miscalculations, none of which helps the case the film’s trying to make. And if you remove the liberties the film takes in the form of a convoluted web of subplots involving arms dealers, the royalty and even bigger criminals, Kurup soon loses the believability you allow it because it is supposed to be inspired from real life incidents, forcing us to focus instead on the superficial. 

But speaking strictly in terms of the surface-level pleasures, there are plenty. Which means that Kurup is a film that will stay in minds longer for the way it’s told rather than what it tries to tell. Painstakingly recreated with a near devotion to the period it is set in (Nimish Ravi is the DOP), Kurup manages to both build a world and leave you there for its entire runtime. With its grand scale erupting out of every frame, no prop feels out of place nor do we ever feel like the studio set-like artificiality of a period film. Helped by Dulquer’s swagger and a costume department to kill for, you get to see traces of a fanboy who grew up devoted to the images left behind a stylish Mammootty in Samrajyam in all his peak 80’s glory. Aided by Sushin Shyam’s rousing score which has a tendency to overcompensate the lack of drama, we end up with a film you look at with wonder but remains at a distance from you.

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