Growing up in Kerala, it was nearly impossible to miss out on Sukumara Kurup’s name. Long before a film starring Dulquer Salmaan in the lead was announced, Kurup was so much a part of the Malayali’s popular imagination. The fugitive attained cult status over the years, never having been caught, spinning off multiple theories and occasional newspaper features in the 1990s. The Kerala Police gave up on their nemesis nearly two decades ago, assuming him to be dead after a wild goose chase spanning a decade-and-a-half.
Kurup, the film, reignited the Malayali’s fascination with the fugitive once again, assuming the film would answer a lot of unanswered questions. The film is supposed to have been in the works for five years, including the research and writing part, and has been awaiting a cinema release for over a year. A hardcore Dulquer fan would not leave disappointed, as the actor hits all the right notes as Kurup, acing the look along with a mischievous glint in the eye. A definite one-time watch, the film fails to live up to the expectations for a subject with abundant possibilities.
First things first: The director and the team manage to authentically recreate the late-1960s, ’70 and ‘80s, transporting you to a bygone era filled with all its charm. The narrative goes back and forth, and tells the story of Kurup from the perspectives of different characters, apparently influenced by Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Rant.
The major characters have all been given similar names to their real-life names — Sukumara Kurup is Sudhakara Kurup, DySP Haridas who is hot on the trail of Kurup is Krishnadas, accomplice and Kurup’s relative Bhaskara Pillai is Bhasi Pillai, Chacko, the film representative who was murdered by Kurup to feign his death, is Charlie, wife Sarasamma is Sarada, and so on. Except for fictional characters such as friend Sunny Wayne’s, a lot of character sketches are also inspired by real life, including Sobhita Dhulipala’s turn as his love interest-turned-wife who was actually the daughter of Kurup’s domestic help.
And yet, apart from Chacko’s murder, which is central to the plot, the film is largely fictional and is a figment of imagination of the writers, taking ample liberties with the narrative. Of course, many popular legends and facts surrounding Kurup’s disappearance have been incorporated into the film to give it an air of authenticity. For instance, Kalpakavadi Inn, at Karuvatta, where Kurup and accomplices hatched their conspiracy and, Alankar Lodge in Aluva, where Kurup stayed for weeks when the cops were chasing him all over, are shown with their facades looking as it were in the early ‘80s. Kurup’s air force background and his desertion while on a leave after bribing the police to fake his first death is also real.
The makers have approached the film from the basic premise that Sukumara Kurup did not merely commit the crime for the insurance money worth eight lakh, as Kurup and wife made that kind of money every year as gross salary in Abu Dhabi. But the makers also fail to come up with a plausible alternate take, instead letting their imaginations run wild. As the maxim goes, truth is often stranger than fiction, and Kurup having faked his death once, might have expected to get away with it yet again. That Kurup and accomplices found a suitable substitute in Chacko after failing to source a dead body itself makes the truth stranger than fiction.
True, Kurup was definitely of a criminal bent of mind to come up with a plot to fake his death twice, but by all accounts lived a lavish life as Sukumara Pillai in Abu Dhabi with a house under construction back home. We would probably never fully understand the true motives of Kurup, evading the law often by the skin of his teeth. Probably the makers decided to give a twist to the after-life of Kurup to make it more glamorous and relatable to the present generation than rely on the deductions of Kerala police.
Among the cast, apart from Dulquer, Shine Tom Chacko stands out as the mercurial Bhaskara Pillai. Tovino Thomas as Chacko in a cameo came as a surprise. The background score by Sushin Shyam is impressive, and the screenplay is passable despite the occasional lag.
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For a big-budget film made on a large canvas, there is a lot of detailing but, a bit more research into the storyline would have made it worth the effort. Which is such a shame as one would manage to learn more about Kurup if one goes through the archives of Manorama and Mathrubhumi dailies of the 80s. DySP PM Haridas, who retired two decades ago, still lives in Kollam and a lot of people associated with Kurup including his family survive today.
And of course, the review wouldn’t be complete without addressing the question as to whether Sukumara Kurup has been glorified – and the answer is, yes, as Kurup’s is an author-backed character. Despite all his flaws, Dulquer’s Kurup has been depicted as charming and personable, on expected lines.
Anand Kochukudy is a Kerala-based journalist and former editor of The Kochi Post.