This is NOT a review about the Malayalam Film KUMBALANGI NIGHTS (2019) , but about a film shot in KUMBALANGI !
Twenty years back Kumbalangi was an unknown sleepy marshy backwater village on the outskirts of Ernakulam. I came to know about such a place when a went to shoot Director Shyama Prasad’s debut feature film “KALLUKONNDORU PENNU” (1998), Produced by Jayakumar of BHAVACHITRA. It was the story of a nurse during the Kuwait war, the story of which was written by S.L.Puram Sadanandan and the Dialogues were by T.A.Razaque and Sasidharan Aarattuvazhy. The formidable cast included Suresh Gopi , Dileep, Murali, Rajan P Dev and Vijaya Shanthi in the title role. Since the film was shot in Kuwait and Kerala in many schedules it was difficult organize the dates of technicians accordingly. Since the original Cinematographer P.Sukumar was busy I took over and later on Salu George and Saroj Padhy respectively.
Coming back to Kumbalingi, the selected house for the Heroine was near the back waters and we had to walk for some distance from the road through swamps and water logged fields carrying our equipments. We had a long night’s shoot ahead. To create wind effect we have brought from Trivandrum a locally made wind machine, which was basically a big electric motor fitted with huge aluminum fan blades . There was also a protective metal grill for that contraption. It usually makes more sound than wind. That particular night at Kumbalangi, there was a huge crowd to witness the shooting as Dileep, Vijaya Shanthi, Murali and others were participating in the shoot. Since the wind machine was not producing enough power it was dismantled and fitted again. When the motor was started suddenly one of the blades had hit the metal cage, got broken and the piece flew away high in the darkness. Fortunately none in the crowd or crew were hurt. We could not find the broken piece anywhere nearby in the dark surrounding area. Only in the next morning it was found embedded at the top trunk of a coconut palm tree about half a kilo meter away.
Since the wind machine was out of use, we proceeded with the scene to be taken. It was a shot of Dileep’s character Venu’s dead body being brought to the house carried on a stretcher. I have lighted up the area and kept my camera on a trolley. Dileep got into position lying on a stretcher with cotton wool stuffed in his nose. As the shot was about to be taken one local drunkard came and stood before the camera. He refused to leave in spite of onlookers pleading with him. Then he started moving towards the camera and tried to get hold of it. I warned him not to play with it. Suddenly he lunged at me and pulled my spectacles which was hanging on a neck strap. On seeing that others got hold of him and a big scuffle erupted. Some persons belonging to his group threw stones. Fearing that lighting equipment may get damaged they were switched off. In total darkness only shouts and the sound of breaking things were heard. People ran in all directions. Somehow we all managed to reach our vehicles wading through the mud missing the path in the darkness.
Finally all of us reached the safety of Kavitha Hotel at Chitoor road and were sitting in the lobby sharing our bad experience. Then some more vehicles came in and out emerged members from another film unit. It was Jayakumar’s brother Seven Arts Vijayakumar’s Joshiy directed film LELAM’s crew members. Jayanan Vincent was working as Cinematographer for that schedule. He told us that they were shooting some stunt scene in Kakkanad area. The crowds there were uncontrollable. During one of the action scenes a jeep driven by a stunt man had grazed some onlooker and a fight erupted. Ultimately they had had to wind up the shooting and escaped. It was really a coincidence that crowd trouble had caused disturbances in both the brothers’ shooting on the same night.
Of course with necessary security we completed the rest of the shooting in the same house at Kumbalangi.
Years later in 2011, I had visited Kumbalangi for the script reading of T.V.Chandran’s SANKARANUM MOHANANUM and stayed in a resort near the backwaters with a view to the railway bridge. I saw some locations too, but ultimately I could not work in the film due to personal commitments. In the few days I stayed there, I found that the place had developed a lot and had become a tourist destination. Now that the film KUMBALANGI NIGHTS had become an artistic and popular hit, the name KUMBALAGI had become more famous from its earlier Infamous origins!