Director Srinath Rajendran’s film tells the story of a real-life murder, peppered with fiction, but is almost as loyal as a biographical account.

Dulquer Salmaan wearing a long sleeve shirt, with a cigar in his mouth sits in a table at a restaurantStill from 'Kurup'
Flix Review Friday, November 12, 2021 - 16:34
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A black diary, bulging with notes and photos stuck to its pages, is almost conspicuously left behind by a retiring police official. Maybe he wants it to be read. It contains the biggest case he is remembered by – the murder of a man by another who tried to pass the body off as his own for personal benefits. On cue, the first page of the diary is opened by someone, and there is the photo of the missing criminal – Kurup. Dulquer Salmaan with long hair and a closely trimmed beard. These first shots of Kurup, the film, take you straight to the story of a real-life murder, peppered with fiction, but almost as loyal as a biographical account. The criminal Sukumara Kurup was never caught in real life. And Dulquer playing Kurup grows slowly into that character through the length of the movie.

Early signs of treachery in filmy Kurup’s actions begin in the mid-1960s when he leads his parents to believe that he did really well in his pre-degree exams. He hadn’t. Only an uncle appears to know the truth, and packs him off promptly to the Indian Air Force. The voices narrating the sequences in Kurup’s life change as the pages in the police diary are turned. In the early stages at the Air Force, it is Sunny Wayne’s familiar nasal voice, as a friend of GK – Gopikrishnan – as Kurup was then known. Somewhere along the way, Indrajith, playing the police official who wrote the diary, takes over. At one point, Dulquer becomes the narrator. All these happen subtly as the locations and the time periods change on the screen.

It is a commendable job by the art team, recreating the changing times, between the 1960s and the 1980s. Not just in the clothing or the inevitable sideburns, but the smaller details like old film posters and toggle switches. It only makes you wonder what Kurup, the oversmart real-life fugitive, would have done had he been born a couple of decades later, straight into the arms of technology.

Dulquer, known to be tech-savvy, though falls comfortably into another time, with 70s hairdos and colourful shirts. As a young Kurup, he seems chatty and full of pranks, winning friends along the way – Sunny Wayne as Peter George among them. He begins a relationship around the same time – in a typical cinematic manner – with a nurse belonging to an oppressed class. Sobhita Dhulipala wears unusually long and thick hair, pretty frilled dresses and plays Saradamma, almost like a stage character. Her presence is marked, but her character seems conflicted – to believe or not, to accept or not, the strange situations Kurup presents.

Watch: Trailer of Kurup

As the years pass, Kurup matures into bigger deceptions and Dulquer gives him the expressions of a conniving con. A finger goes to his eyebrow every time there is a new plan brewing in his head. The concern that many, including the real-life murder victim Chacko’s family, had about the film was regarding Kurup’s portrayal. Will he be shown a villain or a hero? Director Srinath Rajendran does not add a backstory to justify any of Kurup’s actions. No sad childhood or abusive past. Not even poverty. Kurup, in the script, written by KS Aravind and Daniell Sayooj Nair, is just wired to be a bad guy.

Only, his shenanigans are accompanied by striking background music (Sushin Syam’s music is at times noticeably catchy, at other times quietly merging into the picture). His demeanour of one who outplays others, his winning smile, et al is problematic when you consider it’s based on a real-life criminal. If people only saw Dulquer on the screen and clapped for his fictional role as a victorious villain, it would not be so disturbing. The twists and turns in Indrajith’s diary suggest a different ending, but the script still has further surprises once the diary is closed.

It makes you wonder about Indian cinema’s hesitation in letting a hero fail. In Steven Spielberg’s Catch me if you can, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young con who gives the FBI (Tom Hanks) the run for a long time before he is caught, based on a real-life story. Both DiCaprio and Tom Hanks got even more accolades for their performance.

There’s no doubt Kurup is shown as he is, or even worse in the movie. Real life names are thinly veiled - Kurup's accomplices Bhaskara Pillai becomes Bhasi Pillai in the movie (Shine Tom Chacko), Ponnappan to Ponnachan, Shahu to Sabu, and of course Sarasamma becomes Saradamma. There is no attempt to make the character any better for the movie’s sake. But for the celebratory presentation of a murderer – music, stylised walks and winning smiles at the camera, Kurup could have been easier on your mind.

Watch: Story of Sukumara Kurup: Story of Kerala's elusive killer

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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