Director: Ratheesh Balakrishnan
Cast: Suraj Venjarammood, Soubin Shahir, Saiju Kurup
Few films have tried to explore how our parents’ generation are coping in the digital age, of relationships kept alive by social media and Skype, where the line between real and synthetic is dangerously pale. In Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25, debut director and acclaimed production designer Ratheesh Balakrishnan creates a comically heightened imagination of a situation where a lonely and stubborn old man develops an intimate friendship with a robot in whom he starts seeing a reflection of his own son. Or rather, a better version of his son.
Bhaskaran (Suraj Venjarammood) isn’t an easy man to live with. The septuagenarian lives in a Payyanur village, in an old traditional mansion that stands as a metaphor for a past he has confined himself in. He is cantankerous and sharp-tongued. He doesn’t use modern household appliances, and believes in the old-school parenting method in which warmth and affection are never displayed. When his son Subramanian (Soubin Shahir), a mechanical engineer, takes up a high-paying job in Russia and insists on leaving, Bhaskaran creates a fuss, leading the young man to look for options beyond domestic helps and home nurses. Thus, Subramanian brings home a robot, manufactured by the Japanese company he works in, which can function like a human. The surprising element here is that the robot’s area of function isn’t just clinical. It has impressive cognitive skills, and an ability to touch its owner emotionally.
Ratheesh constructs a quirky milieu to house his off-kilter film. Everyone in the village possess an odd sense of humour – when they realise the robot is a harmless caregiver, their immediate is to smile heartily and ask for a selfie and the scene unfolds in an utmost organic fashion. In another instance, an elderly woman in the neighbourhood innocuously asks the robot for some astrological information. Never do you feel the robot is in the wrong place. The villagers operate in a space and time cut off from the rest of the world.
The high point of the film is the relationship arc of Bhaskaran and the robot who become the kind of allies, perhaps, its creators might not have envisaged. The old man finds in the machine precisely what he had been looking for – a devoted accomplice and a caregiver to attend to all his needs and tantrums. Ratheesh delineates the relationship smartly, with a lot of support from his editor Saiju Sreedharan who lends a disarmingly beautiful rhythm to the film’s narrative. The film’s astute design helps the audience feel at one with Bhaskaran and forget that the other entity is a robot built of metals, codes, and human will. More importantly, the film never explicitly shows that the robot is a creation of the market. Subramaniam first hears about it from his lover Hitomi (an excellent Kendy Zirdo), in a poignant tale about her father’s final days. The human details are accentuated.
Particularly interesting are the scenes that follow Subramaniam’s final homecoming. Bhaskaran is visibly unsettled, and he turns anxious, sneaking into rooms at night to be alone with the robot the way he used to. Interestingly, parallels could be drawn between Bhaskaran’s obsession with the robot to how the pre-millennial generation has, after many years of reprimanding their children for excessive use of mobile phones, turned into a set of people overtly attached to WhatsApp and Facebook. The robot opens to Bhaskaran a window he never knew existed, through which he starts looking at the world in a new light. He starts to smile at a neighbour he had always maintained a distance from. He also starts to mistrust the people he used to consider close.
Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25 also makes some interesting notes on the father-son relationship. The interactions between Subramanian and Bhaskaran often resembles scenes from a bad marriage. They are people as different as chalk and cheese – the son is mild-mannered, the father is cranky – but they make a family, and hence have to stick together. At the same time, you see that the love isn’t entirely lost too. There are heartwarming moments of them missing each other, quietly in loneliness.
At the heart of the film is Suraj Venjarammood’s performance as Bhaskaran. He brilliantly brings aboard a stubborn charm, and a subtle sense of helplessness. The actor, who is going through what is perhaps the best phase in his career, helps the viewers empathise with Bhaskaran, even when he is being unreasonable. Soubin Shahir, Saiju Kurup and actress Bhanumathi who plays a home nurse make an excellent supporting cast with great comic timing and a prowess to underplay.
Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25 gropes in the dark in the final sequences, struggling to find the perfect way to bring everything to a close. None of the devices it puts to use in this part of the narrative, like the sudden (and predictable) transformation of the machine into an antagonist, are effective. Yet, the film is quite unforgettable for its many charming and meaningful little moments about human connection.
The Android Kunjappan Ver 5.25 review is a Silverscreen.in original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.