There is such a thing as settling down for a film to begin that Romancham doesn’t allow its audience. It begins long before it actually does but teases you into believing that the film will start any moment now. This is not the film’s problem, this is the problem of us. That ‘we have forgotten how to watch films’ will offer the unnecessary consolation that once upon a time, we knew how to.
Instead, let’s quickly go to Romancham. The word settles comfortingly in Malayalam and all its sister languages because its invitation to you isn’t incumbent on your knowing its meaning but its feeling.
And what a feeling Romancham is. I don’t remember watching a film that does so much with so little. And by so little I mean the way stories were once imagined and had the balls to once be told.
Romancham activates that part of the childhood dream where all we wanted in life was to get away from adults, lock ourselves up in a room with friends and tell each other ghost stories. It’s perhaps why when the event we are trained to wait for in a comedy-horror film never fully arrives, we may not even notice it. Perhaps because it has already arrived or perhaps because it doesn’t have to.
The seven friends in the film haven’t succumbed to having a lot to do with the little time they have, they aren’t pumping their days up with the luxury of being absorbed in phones or much else —either because of poverty or because they have one another in the way we used to have friends.
A familiar boredom and the sharp annoyance of being left out of throwball leads one of the friends to become a fake ouija board expert. The incoming ghost is barely the point of interest here because after that, each of their 7 faces explode into an individual drama in this house full of commodes. And the commodes, man. At no point in the film are we told why there are so many commodes in boxes lying around the house but we believe in them, like we believe in their thoughtfulness when they gift one of the commodes to a friend getting married.
Their daily transactions with each other lend themselves to everything from how organizedly they sleep in a line below a kannada fillum poster — to ensuring that the friend who has an incessant cough problem gets his 2 bottles of cough syrup every month. This intimacy is a childhood dream coming true with all of adult life problems intact: money is an issue, and so is the threat of being left out for not knowing how to play throwball, as also – the following desire to puncture said throw ball.
Romancham’s writing is skeletal in a most visible way. It is touchable, holdable and not hiding behind grandiosity. And I am not saying there is no grandiosity just because it is a story of seven men sharing one shabby bathroom, one sink.
I am saying no grandiosity because even if the film is based on real life incidents; in its narration— the only lurking joy is coming from seeing what happens if seven mostly unemployed Malayali bachelors are thrown in a Bangalore house full of commodes.
The charm of this commode house is that it is still largely Bengaluru despite being haunted by Malayali men and even a Malayali ghost. It’s a house left to fend for itself much like the few houses in Jakkur were before the airport flyover plundered its grassy emptiness.
The Romancham house is sometimes modern in its capacity to allow all kinds of non-brahmin things to happen inside it — storing rice in commodes, doing things to piss off gods in all religions — making one wonder if the owners are not Brahmin or live far away or dead or just don’t care – all four of which are super rare to find in Bengloor, whether in 2007 or 2023.
The house’s other Bangalore ability is to be surrounded by the bigness and loudness of landscape and to remain still small in front of neither fully yellow nor green street lights. Its anglala with a rope-swing, the accumulating commode boxes, and broken two-wheelers all contribute to this.
Zizek said in Pervert’s Guide to Cinema that waiting for a film to begin in a dark theatre, staring at the blank screen is like staring into the toilet bowl, waiting for your worst nightmare to come true – for shit to reappear. ‘We are basically watching shit’, he says. I don’t know if it’s the commode or the general naughtiness of the film- shit or not, it’s a mad, sexy film and I want to watch it again.