Fugitive stories are captivating. Whether it’s Provenzano in Italy or Dawood Ibrahim in the Indian subcontinent, the cinematic potential they offer is immense. Their stories could be gritty, campy, or even pulpy in spirit. Kerala’s most notorious criminal-on-the-run Sukumara Kurup has been a similar enigmatic figure. The mastermind of the heinous ‘Chacko Murder Case’ from 1983, the man became the theme for a couple of Malayalam films – none fully enticing. Milking the possibilities of his infamous trail once again is Srinath Rajendran’s Kurup starring Dulquer Salmaan.
The story template is the same that’s out there on the internet. A thirty-something NRI man named Gopikrishnan alias Sudhakara Kurup (Dulquer Salmaan) plots a plan to encash a hefty insurance policy in Dubai by faking his death. The conspiracy involving three of his acquaintances targets an unassuming man called Chacko (Tovino Thomas in a special appearance). Here onwards, Kurup is about the leading man’s escapades – narrated in a flashback sequence to titillate us with his heroics in the absence of actual meat in the narrative.
Kurup works pretty well in the early reels where it sets the tone to Gopi’s restless, shortcut-seeking ways. The screenplay leaves giant gaps that they would get filled in the final act – which is fine – but none are surprising provided the familiarity of the plot. Kurup loves to live a life of luxury but is stuck in the discipline of the Indian Air Force. He falls in love with Saradamma (Sobhita Dhulipala, expressive but too pouty for the part) and makes Peter’s (Sunny Wayne, efficient) days by fulfilling best friend duties to a T. The chapter closes when Peter receives the news about Kurup’s suicide.
Throughout the early chapters, I was amused by the equation he shared with Sarada. A nurse by profession, she was aware of his fraudulent ways. We also sense how Kurup was the dominant partner who never explicitly revealed his plans to his spouse. Sarada, in many ways, is clueless – much like the audience who await to see what Kurup’s next move would be.
The second act comes with better characters. Bhasi Pillai (Shine Tom Chacko, in a dynamite avatar), Kurup’s alcoholic brother-in-law spruces up the proceedings with a finite degree of eeriness. A right hand to Kurup, the man’s spontaneous outbursts and deceiving mannerisms scale the film to levels of mega intrigue. The chapter concludes with the decisive murder (of Chacko) and the character goes off the papers.
This way, people keep appearing for sporadic intervals – some with limited impact. The constant in all chapters, aside from Kurup himself, is top cop Krishandas (Indrajith Sukumaran). Cops in India movies who are out to ace criminals are fun prototypes. They are agile, excited, and can seldom be boring. Krishnadas, on the other hand, acts as if his superintendent cancelled his vacation and is forced to be on duty. The cop is devised as a staid, lifeless entity which makes us wait for Kurup to spring some action. Of course, with a criminal as clever as Kurup to be nabbed, the cop cannot be more interesting from a cinematic purview but then again, the man looks perennially sleep-deprived to be taken seriously.
On the writing front, the final act is the least believable. Not only does it overdo Kurup’s superhuman abilities to masquerade and double-cross, but its convoluted twists come with minuscule logic. By this hour, we are saturated with a mega-glamourised version of a chronic offender. The floral shirts, aviators, spotless makeup, and perfectly groomed facial hair on Kurup begin to jar. There is also a visible tonal shift in this chapter where the protagonist’s larger-than-life persona swallows every plot point and peripheral player in one gulp. Srinath Rajendran films it the way Prithviraj Sukumaran envisioned Lucifer while it started off as something far more life-like albeit an overarching layer of style.
Among the major plusses is its authentic production design. Malayalam cinema rarely does period themes and Kurup gets the tone and the aesthetics just right. I was also convinced of the ensemble cast even though Dulquer Salmaan has no major heavy-lifting to do on the histrionics front. He is expected to look like a dreamboat in various avatars – which he does by default, anyway. The original score and songs (Sushin Shyam) are atmospheric, and the sound design elevates the impact to a greater degree. Nimish Ravi’s frames do full justice in depicting a raw yet stylised picture of the era, and so does Vivek Harshan’s editing that spices up a lazy screenplay with some snazzy cuts – especially around the key murder.
Technical proficiency and overall glitz quotient aside, Kurup refuses to offer anything fresh at a concept level. It is perfectly alright to keep the man an enigma but in the absence of a window to his dark convoluted mind, Srinath Rajendran’s film remains mere chapters from an indifferent cop’s diary. The film does not necessarily glorify the criminal, but it does consciously romanticise him with extra flamboyance. I could sit through Kurup due to an assortment of factors besides Dulquer Salmaan’s natural screen presence. Yet, that wouldn’t mean that it has anything substantial to spin around a story that is etched vividly in every Malayali’s mind.