First things first: This is a must-watch movie that has its heart and brain in the right places. To be honest, when I saw the film’s cut-out and the title at a theatre a month ago, I felt like swiping left. It seemed like another cheap Hollywood rip-off. The plot of this film is inspired from the Frank Langella-starrer Robot & Frank in which a man uses a robot to take care of his grumpy old father. The similarities end here. Android Kunjappan v5.2.5 discusses issues of old age, family responsibilities, father-son bonding, loneliness, religion and of course love, with dollops of humour and the perfect amount of drama.
Subrahmanian (Soubin) is a Mechanical engineer living with his father Bhaskaran Poduval (Suraj) in a quaint little village in Payyannur. The young man is stifled by his controlling, insecure father who forbids him from taking up jobs far from home. Though he loves his father, Subrahmanian one day declares that he is going to take up an offer to work at a robotics company based in Russia. His cousin Prasannan (Saiju) finds a home nurse and the son leaves to pursue his dreams. His work is appreciated and he also falls in love with half-Malayali Hitomi (Kendy Ziro).
Bhaskaran’s grumpy and uncompromising nature causes all home nurses to quit and tired of his father’s antics and equally worried about his welfare, Subrahmanian returns home with a surprise—a personal assistant robot. Bhaskaran hates the machine from the get-go and refuses to take its help. But slowly, he warms up to the affable android and soon they forge a bond akin to a father and son. The robot and its master become the talk of the town. Though the old man seemed to be happier than he ever was, the euphoria doesn’t last long as new challenges arise.
Despite being marketed as a Soubin Shahir film, the real protagonist here is Suraj’s Bhaskaran. The National Award winner has been showcasing his dramatic acting skills of late. With this, he cements his position as an actor that is capable of nuanced roles. The climax is enough to win him another set of accolades. He delivers humour without being clownish and portrays Bhaskaran’s anger, frustrations, selfishness and idiosyncrasies with a nuance that we see from stalwarts like Nedumudi Venu, Thilakan, Mohanlal and Mammootty.
Soubin is also earnest though his character is a different version of Majeed in Sudani From Nigeria. Saiju delivers the goods effortlessly and every other supporting actor, including known and relatively unknown faces make the film wholesome. A special shout out to Kendy from Arunachal Pradesh who plays Hitomi. The fact that she dubbed in her own voice gives her bonus points. Her cutely-accented Malayalam, the innocence and easy chemistry with Soubin makes her an actress to watch out for.
Having had his grounding as a production designer with films such as Kammattipadam, Badhaai Ho, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, and Ezra, Ratheesh Balakrishna Poduval has made a stellar directorial debut with this film. He also wrote the script that is crackling with humour throughout the film. The title has great significance and is a typical example of his deft writing. Be mindful that though the film has a robot as its central character, it is barely a sci-fi film. Ratheesh broaches serious questions about life and makes the audience think while they laugh at a witty quip or gesture or look.
Sanu John Varghese’s camerawork captures the rustic beauty of the northern Kerala village life. Bijibal’s background score meshes seamlessly with the scenes. Jothish Shankar’s production design and the effects team also deserve praise. The robot was a mix of puppetry and VFX that was at par with Hollywood standards.
It is a matter of concern that this engaging piece of experimental-yet-relatable cinema was released alongside big-ticket draws like Geethu Mohandas’ Moothon with Nivin Pauly in the lead and Lal Jose’s Nalpathoyonnu starring Biju Menon. But I have hopes in the discerning power of Malayalis who always back a good film. This is a David among the Goliaths and it deserves a long run in the theatres. Ratheesh Balakrishnan take a bow, you have earned it.