April 14, 2018
Dileep, Siddharth, Namitha Pramod, Murali Gopy, Andy Von Eich, Divya Prabha, Bobby Simha, Shweta Menon, Indrans, Vijayaraghavan, Vinay Forrt, Siddique, Baiju, Sudheer Karamana, Simarjeet Singh Nagra
A film within this film falsely lionises a politician and ends up boosting his party’s electoral fortunes.
At a conceptual level, writer Murali Gopy’s Kammara Sambhavam directed by Rathish Ambat, is apt for our troubled times. The saga of a contemporary neta/party untruthfully claiming to have played a pivotal role in the Indian Independence movement rings a bell loud and clear. Napoleon Bonaparte’s words flashing on screen right at the end – “History is a set of lies agreed upon” – perfectly encapsulate the point made by the storyline until then, about a victor peddling his version of the past to the hapless masses.
The value of a message is greatly dependent on the sincerity of those delivering it though. And by slipping its own insensitive insinuation into a conversation in its closing moments, Kammara Sambhavam vastly dilutes its worth.
In that crucial scene, Kammaran Vishwambaran Nambiar (Dileep) – a traitor who has just recently been hero-ised on the big screen – tells his cohorts that they can quietly work on their agenda if they distract the public by getting a woman to accuse a high-profile man of sexual violence. The throwaway remark sans qualifiers would have been distasteful in any context, considering how the bogey of false cases has long been used to muddy the waters for millions of victims of rape, molestation and harassment. It is particularly disgusting in this specific context because of the real-life case in which Dileep is currently embroiled, in which he is charged with orchestrating an attack on a female colleague.
Dileep makes it tough for viewers to separate the artist from his art when he blatantly sneaks a potshot at his accuser into a fictional film.
Now make of that what you will.
Kammara Sambhavam is divided into two distinct halves. Pre-interval, in the present day, the members of the Indian Liberation Party, ILP (played by Vijayaraghavan, Sudheer Karamana, Baiju and Vinay Forrt) approach the hit Tamil director Pulikesi (Bobby Simha) to make a film on their ageing party patriarch Kammaran. ILP was a small armed force set up by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to fight the British colonisers, but it is now a political party.
(Possible spoilers ahead)
In this portion, Kammaran recalls his story during World War II, complete with his lies and machinations among the people of his village, his obsequiousness towards the British, his extreme caste prejudice, his longing for the beautiful Bhanumathi (Namitha Pramod) who does not reciprocate his feelings and his raging, all-consuming, well-disguised simmering jealousy towards the man she loves, ILP leader Othenan Nambiar (Siddharth) who is the son of another man Kammaran hates, the cruel and exploitative Kelu Nambiar (played by Gopy himself).
Despite the grim proceedings, this part is often amusing and sometimes outright hilarious as the protagonist’s ignorance, biases and manipulations are gradually revealed. It is also made evident here that Kammaran has zero interest in India’s freedom.
Post-interval, we sit with an audience in a hall viewing Pulikesi’s propaganda biopic on the man. The filmmaker paints a portrait of Kammaran that even Kammaran cannot recognise. Since those who know the truth are either dead or complicit in the lie, the public is successfully deceived.
(Spoiler alert ends)
Overall, Kammara Sambhavam is a reasonably entertaining film, not the least because Ambat more or less controls Dileep’s hammy tendencies and manages to use the actor’s naturally bland personality well. Dileep is therefore convincing as the slimy Kammaran of the first half. And when called upon to play the glamorous Kammaran of the second, he is given a thick beard, dark glasses, an attention-getting quirk and swish attire to build him up to being someone the actor and the character are not.
The rest of the cast needs no such crutches. Namitha Pramod is both striking to look at and a subtle performer. Gopy is convincing as an evil fellow you cannot even briefly sympathise with despite the ugly villainy of his bête noir. In a comparatively tiny role, Indrans displays his acting chops when he steals a scene in which the casting of Kammaran’s biopic is being discussed.
Tamil-Telugu star Siddharth, making his Malayalam debut here, is a pleasantly polished contrast to Dileep. His Malayalam diction needs improvement, but the fact that he dubbed for himself is worth commending since it shows a willingness to take risks and a desire to evolve. Besides, Siddharth is always easy on the eye.
There is an interesting tonal split in Kammara Sambhavam between fact and its distorted, fictionalised depiction. The film within the film is intentionally farcical, energetic and spiced up, and every actor featured in it (Dileep, Siddharth, Shweta Menon) is required to be over the top. Outside that celluloid take on events, the tone is more understated.
However, that romantic song and dance interlude with Bhanu in Kammaran’s imagination jars when it is forced into the first half. If Ambat’s goal is to laugh at commercial cinema even while participating in it himself, he cannot expect to be excused for resorting to one of the country’s most worn-out cinematic clichés. Besides, the director does not manage to entirely pull off the effort at relative understatement before the interval. To make matters worse, the sub-par European actor playing the British officer stationed in Kammaran’s village (his name is Andy Von Eich) robs the narrative of finesse whenever he is around, which is a lot.
The production design too is inexplicably inconsistent. On the one hand, we get some sophisticated battle scenes shot in low light, including a neatly done sequence where a bunch of men are seen in silhouette in the night fighting each other against a backdrop of a blue-back sky. On the other hand, the village settlement looks too glaringly set-like and artificial, which takes the punch out of an important passage where the paths of the story’s multiple players – the locals, the ILP, the British and Kelu Nambiar – intersect during an uncontrollable blaze.
Kammara Sambhavan remains fairly engaging despite these weak patches, which could perhaps have been forgiven in favour of its purportedly hard-hitting theme. It is impossible though to ignore the film’s lack of commitment to its own cause. Let us spell it out for Rathish Ambat and Murali Gopy: you cannot mock propaganda while being a vehicle for it yourself.
Rating (out of five stars): *1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/ActorDileep/