Thank God It Is Friday and you do know the drill by now, so lets get started. With that I finished watching the new Malayalam film Romancham which is now streaming on Hotstar. The film was long awaited given that I had previously missed out on its theatrical release and regretfully so! I was hearing some of the most glorious reviews about the film that had really made me eager to watch it once the film would premiere on OTT.
Horror Comedy as a genre can be very tricky given that you would need to balance two genres in one. One of the reasons why this genre may have been invented in the first place was that the horror as a genre may have increasingly become unintentionally funny. So there was an opportunity for the filmmakers to flaunt the humour and in process invent a new genre. However, this genre has been a rarity in the Malayalam film industry as opposed to the Hindi film industry which has kept churning out plenty of horror comedies. The one film that I remember in this genre was the 1993 film Manichitrathazhu(which later was remade into Bhool Bhulaiyaa). One look at the year and you would know how far ahead was the Malayalam film industry in terms of content. And that said, I had high expectations from Romancham as well. Does the film live up to my massive expectations, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Loosely based on true events in 2007, Romancham follows the story of a group of bachelors who play the ouija board until a series of strange events that follow. The story here is a perfect premise for a horror comedy that does translate into genuine laughs and chills. The screenplay standing at 130 odd minutes does take some time to warm up. But post the introduction of the conflict, the film is an absolute joyride.
The drama does open with one of the protagonists narrating a story of he and his friends from the hospital bed. So as a part of the initial setup and the trademark world building of Malayalam films, you are introduced to the bunch of protagonists who are all jobless(barring one) and are often seen whiling away their time. So you are acquainted with their room and it is absolutely how a bachelor’s room would be – dirty! The stray incidents include the presence of a rat in their room and they brush with drugs while almost doing nothing worthwhile in their lives. Soon, one of them is introduced to the Ouija board and that is when the film shifts gears, resulting in genuine laughs.
The proceedings are hilarious and engrossing at the same time. The entire sequence of the boys operating the ouija board resulted in a series of laughs like no other. This was a clear case of clever writing that did was self aware on what it wished to present. What does start off on a frivolous note with a couple of characters ‘operating’ the board, soon turns out to be a nightmare when the actual spirit enters the drama, thus resulting in laughs. A sort of a business model developed also does result in laughs aplenty particularly the one featuring a character who ‘tests’ the Ouija board with his father’s name. But in between, there are also moments where the writing infuses the drama with much needed urgency and tension, thus resulting in chills. So the horror-comedy genre was nicely nailed down here.
The interval block did escalate the tensions setting up things nicely for the second hour. Now while watching the film, it may seem to you that there is a disconnect between the first and the second hour, particularly because the drama changes track in the second hour with the introduction of a new character. The humour is prevalent throughout though but I was interested in seeing how the writers would connect the events of the first half with the second. And that too is done in a rather interesting manner. The entire final act is just so well executed that does make up for the horror elements in the drama. Even a hint of a potential sequel was nicely setup with an object that did result in laughter. So overall, the screenplay here is terrific and almost nails the tricky horror-comedy genre and how!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are genuinely funny and make for a hilarious watch. Having said that, I did feel that some parts of the humour may have been lost in translation too. The music is excellent and blends so well with the drama. But it is the BGM by Sushin Shyam which is the unsung hero of the film – pulsating, energetic and pitch perfect. This BGM is perhaps one of my favourites of the year and deserves a playlist of its own. The cinematography is excellent particularly in the finale act that creates the right atmosphere for horror to kick in. The editing is sharp and crisp.
Director Jithu Madhavan does an incredible job in tackling this genre without really trying too hard. The comedy was effortless and not deliberately infused in the drama and likewise for the horror which did feel organic. A fun fact – the director was one of the bachelors in the 2007 incident! No wonder his pitch of the film was perfect!
The performances are absolutely smashing here. Sneha Matthew as Pooja and Deepika Siva as Nurse Nayana have their moments to shine. Chemban Vinod Jose as Sayed and Joemon Jyothir as DJ Babu(notice the name) are hilarious in their respective roles. Arjun Ashokan had probably the most challenging role wherein he could have so easily gone overboard, as Sinu. But it is the sheer skills of the performer that make his character well restrained and just so hilarious!
Jagadeesh Kumar as Soman and Afzal PH as Hari is wonderful to witness onscreen. Anantharaman Ajay as Rivin is effortless in his comedy and does a swell job here. Siju Sunny as Mukesh and Abin Bino as Shijappan are excellent here. Sajin Gopu as Niroop is just so natural onscreen here and almost as a glue that binds the group together. The way he was able to express a bunch of his emotions was tremendous to witness. Which brings me to Soubin Shahir who is brilliant as Jibi. It was recently that I had watched him in Ela Veezha Poonchira in a very serious and brooding role. Here it was a diabolically opposite character with plenty of goofiness ingrained in his character. And he is simply excellent here in every sense of the word.
Romancham is one of the best horror comedies of recent times that comes with my highest recommendation. Needless to say that it is once again the Malayalam Film Industry that has made early inroads this year as well. Available on Hotstar and Highly Recommended!