How ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ Set a Standard for Depicting Trauma?


Madhu C Narayanan’s directorial debut quickly became a film that marked a new era in Malayalam Cinema. A time before Kumbalangi Nights and a time after it. 2 years on, the film still runs hot in the audience’s veins. 

Many things still make their way into conversations – the incredible music, the stunning cinematography, and the award-worthy performances. But perhaps, the thing the film did spectacularly comes back to the air-tight script. 

The Trauma of It All 

Trauma is a familiar occupant of the screen. There have been countless depictions and interpretations of it, with therapized language becoming a staple now. Mental Health, Triggers, PTSD, Abuse, and much more have become topics that cinema freely talks about. But it is still a space that often gets it wrong. 

There is an offense that a chunk of cinema commits when it comes to depicting trauma. The trauma only centers around a single event, and its consequences are linear. There is a flashback, there are specific triggers and repeated expressions. Kumbalangi Nights manage to do the impossible, showing us it isn’t impossible at all. Trauma would not be a single event, even if it were initially borne from one. It does not have a straight and neat line of ugly consequences. Trauma for the brothers in Kumbalangi Nights isn’t a singular experience, it is their whole life. 

The reasons for their trauma are not given to us in dramatic reveals but in casual remarks and tearful confessions. They are parentless boys, despite having four parents between the four of them. This is not a box of triggers they can push away into the attic. The life they live, from where they sleep to who they fight with, is a direct result of what has happened to them. It isn’t easy to put such a whole experience on paper, but Syam Pushkaran does so flawlessly. 

Trigger Warnings 

Like in any depiction of trauma, there are emotional triggers galore. The kind that creeps up out of nowhere and the kind that you can see coming from a mile away. They are layered and different, each one tailoring to another brother and his different psyche because even the same traumatic event affects its victims differently. 

For Bobby, played in a perfect drawl by Shane Nigam, the trigger comes in a joking question by his lover, eliciting quiet tears from him. It aligns perfectly with his experience, trauma that leaves him feeling unwanted and confused, the trauma he refuses to acknowledge as a guiding factor in his life. 

For Bonny, the mute ‘cool guy’ played by Sreenath Bhasi, the trauma drives him away from his family. It is the distance that he chooses, taking the outs that allow him to flourish away from the toxicity of their house with no door. He is only so far away that he can come back in a flash to check on them, but his trigger- the sight of fighting brothers, sends him back into the distance. 

For Franky, the resigned youngest brother played in earnest by Mathew Thomas, the pain of the past has nothing on pain of the present. It is now, in the home where the brothers cannot stop fighting enough to make breakfast and the home his elder brother cannot stand coming back to. This pain drives Franky, who hopes for a family that can sit together and eat together. 

In Saji, played in a masterclass by Soubin Shahir, the trauma reaches heartbreaking heights. This is the oldest brother, the man for whom the events of the past aren’t hazy but vivid realities. He is quick to anger, brash and lazy, but he is the oldest who will still show up to help his most annoying brother get the girl. The trauma is acknowledged as trauma by him, as he asks the youngest to take him to a therapist. As we watch him cry and wail on the doctor’s chest, having admitted his pain at being fatherless and an orphan, we see the oldest release a child’s pain. 

It is their whole life, this hurt. It is what makes these brothers who they are, as they live on unwanted land, in a house with no door. It is their Kumbalangi Nights, and as a brilliant team comes together to create a perfect film, we are invited intimately into the pain of being, and the joy of it.

Read More – Kumbalangi Nights (2019) Review

Kumbalangi Nights is a 2019 Drama Thriller film directed by debut director Madhu C Narayanan.

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Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis Parakkal is a 25-year-old writer and poet. She has written about film, people, places, and poetry across multiple platforms and hopes to continue doing so.

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