Kappela (Chapel) review: a slice of Malayalam cinema on Netflix

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An Indian fillm with a runtime that falls below two hours, a few thoughts on Kappela (Chapel), that’s now available on Netflix.

Actor turned director Muhammad Musthafa makes this beautifully shot and well-crafted Malayalam film that barely graced the cinema theatres globally before lockdown happened. Still, it’s now given Kappela a chance to be seen by many more, due to Netflix picking it up quickly.

Anna Ben (Jessy) and Sreenath Bhasi (Roy), both of whom star in the acclaimed hit Kumbalangi Nights, take roles in this film, which unravels as a love story-cum-thriller. Roshan Mathew (Vishnu), fresh off a much-lauded performance in festival hit Moothon, plays a sign language-using LGBTQ+ character to a tee, and as in Anurag Kashyap’s Choked (Netflix) takes on a role of a charming auto (tuk tuk) driver Vishnu. A sweet, naive, unambitious small-town girl Jessy – who lives in picturesque Wayanad, Kerala, India (home to incredible black pepper estates) – rings Vishnu by mistake, by dialling a digit wrong. He calls her back, and they begin a long-distance, over the phone romance that she conducts in secret due to her uber-orthodox family.

His behaviour seems stalkerish at first, but many scenes establish him as a charming, helpful nice guy (without even a Facebook profile), while Jessy doesn’t have a smartphone, and really wants her parents to buy her one. Only one friend of Jessy’s is aware of this ongoing courtship. We see glimpses of both their lives, of Vishnu’s do-gooder nature and Jessy’s rebuttal of a shop owner who is in love with her. With a degree of trepidation, at the break of dawn on a rainy day, Jessy takes a bus to Kozhikode, ‘City Of Spices’, to meet. Which is where the story takes an unnerving, surprising turn with the arrival of ‘angry young man’ Roy – totally out of the blue, and thrown into the light pace of the film. So who is Roy, why is he in the lives of these two lovers? Why is he following them? All good questions that we’re not giving the answers to here.

This is a rare Indian film to come in at less than two hours, giving us a tightly woven, well-edited slice of life that will make you tread very carefully around strangers. The well-toned music, excellent ensemble cast and cinematography give it a polished sheen. While the film is extremely thought provoking, there are many patriarchal messages thrown into this slickly packaged narrative, which is filled with obscure twists and turns, making it exciting viewing, but leaving the audience ultimately flabbergasted by the takeaways. Anna Ben’s star continues to rise, though, and Malayalam cinema continues to make thought-provoking movies.

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