Revisiting Ee Kanni Koodi, one of Malayalam cinema’s finest investigative thrillers

Director KG George’s 1990 film is a strange concoction for an investigative thriller. There are fascinating characters, intrigue and drama, but at its core it is a heart-breaking tale of love and loss.
A scene from Ee Kanni Koodi
A scene from Ee Kanni Koodi
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A woman is found dead at her home. The police suspect murder and get on with the investigation, meticulously questioning and probing every possible suspect. Ee Kanni Koodi (Connecting the links), another gem from director KG George, is one of the finest investigative thrillers in Malayalam, which also happens to be relatively less discussed, like most of his films.

The frames are bleak, lifelike in characteristic KG George style. The film, which released in 1990, begins with a long shot of a house with an iron gate enclosing the compound. A man knocks, jots down a note. A while later, another man enters the premises. When he gets no response after ringing the bell, he approaches the police. And so we are introduced to Kumudam and her story.

Kumudam (Ashwini) we are told is a sex worker, much in demand amongst the rich and well-heeled. Her characterisation begins with intrigue, mystery, and we easily fall into the trap along with the rest of the characters in judging her. The beautiful widow is often described by men as mysterious, dignified, pricey and rather strict. Even her pimp (Jagadeesh) doesn’t hide his respect when he talks about her (“She wasn’t like the rest. It’s evident she came from a good family”). But the underlying disdain for her profession is plain in every man’s account of her.

KG George, like he did with Yavanika, studiously takes us through the investigation, diligently questioning the ones directly or indirectly linked to Kumudam and thereby taking us through her story. Inspector Raveendran’s (Saikumar) characterisation is similar to Dy SP Jacob Iraali (Yavanika), a no-nonsense cop who is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Kumudam’s past is unveiled through the yarns of the various people who knew her. It also exposes a lot of hypocrisies in our society, unmasking the men who wear the façade of god-fearing family men during the day. Bad karma comes back to visit ageing local planter Mamachan (Thilakan), a former client of Kumudam’s, when the police seek him out for questioning on the day of his daughter’s engagement. The wedding, understandably, is called off.  A college lad cries himself hoarse when the police nail him, petrified of his dad knowing his ‘dirty secret’.

Kumudam’s parents are living a life of misery and solitude, cursing their daughter for daring to walk out on them. It’s also through them that another name slips in – Susan Philip, her real name. A carefree 22-year-old who loved paintings and artists, who was adored by her dad and constantly nagged by a mom who was worried about her becoming too old to be marriageable.

It’s another character who helps us piece together a lot of the other puzzling aspects. Her child’s nanny! She frantically runs into the frame, heartbroken to discover that one of her favourite people in the world is no more. It also gets us drawn towards Kumudam, probably making us empathise with the woman she turned into. Her marriage to a painter, we are told, begins on a happy note and ends in tragedy. The painter husband is a cinematic cliché – the archetypal artist struggling to make ends meet and reaching for the bottle for comfort.

In Kumudam’s story, we witness the familiar exploitation a lonely, beautiful widow with a child is often made to endure (especially in films). The antagonist by way of description is Charlie, a crafty businessman who at first lures her with sympathetic words and cruelly uses her for his own gains and forces her to take up sex work eventually. But George characteristically outlines him with a detached nonchalance, which makes it impossible to judge him. Look out for the scene where he narrates his part to the police.

What makes the film a gut-wrenchingly emotional experience is the last 15 minutes. The husband comes back from a mental asylum and faces the shattering reality of his wife’s trade. He has heard enough snide remarks from various quarters to understand that Kumudam is his Susan. George is clinical, yet strangely humane in the way he lets the husband see the plight of the woman he loved deeply. The distraught lovers finally meet, but are aware of the impenetrable wall of morality between them. They cry, hug and their eyes still brim over with love and affection. But she is a battered soul and nothing can ever unite them again.

In one instance he asks for her forgiveness and tells her to put it all in the past, but then the treacherous dregs of that very past start knocking at the door. He stands in another room and watches powerlessly as she tries to dissuade her customers. Men promise her drinks and money and you know she is crying inside. When he can take it no longer, he grabs a whiskey bottle just so that he can forget the traumatic scene he just witnessed.

The closure is strangely peaceful and poetic. And we also realise how subtly her character grows on us, how we are unhurriedly erasing all the grey areas and truly empathising with her.

Despite everything, one can’t help feeling that a more seasoned actor playing Kumudam/Susan would have done wonders for the film. Or even the actor who played the husband for that matter. Perhaps that was a reason behind the poor box-office fortunes of the film.

Ee Kanni Koodi is a strange concoction for an investigative thriller. There are fascinating characters, intrigue and drama, but then at the core it is a heart-breaking tale of love and loss.

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to and She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.

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