“Either a fool or remarkably clever” is how a character describes fugitive Sukumara Kurup, played by Dulquer Salmaan, in Srinath Rajendran’s Kurup.

For 37 years, the Kerala Police has not managed to find Sukumara Kurup. He is accused of murdering a man named Chacko in 1984, using Chacko’s corpse to fake his own death, and claiming insurance money. While Kurup’s accomplices were caught, the ringleader’s disappearance turned him into an “urban legend”, Rajendran told Scroll.in. “Everyone’s attracted to someone who has managed to fool the police.”

Kurup stars Indrajith Sukumaran as the cop on the killer’s trail. Sobhita Dhulipala plays Kurup’s wife. The cast includes Sunny Wayne and Shine Tom Chacko. Filmed in Malayalam, Kurup has been dubbed into Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu and will be released in theatres on November 12.

Pakaliravukal, Kurup (2021).

The Chacko murder case inspired the Malayalam films NH 47 (1984) and Pinneyum (2016). The plot of the Hindi thriller Moh Maya Money (2016) too has parallels with the case. Earlier this year, director Jeethu Joseph told Scroll.in that like Kurup, the protagonist of his Drishyam films could continue to evade detection.

What is new then in Rajendran’s telling of the Kurup saga? “Not the story, but the narration,” Rajendran said. “It was Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Rant that showed me the way to approach the story. We look at Kurup from the perspective of several people, which makes the film go into different genres.”

Rant follows multiple characters offering an oral biography of a dead serial killer. Jithin K Jose has written the story for Kurup, and KS Aravind and Daniell Sayooj Nair worked on the screenplay.

What drew Rajendran to the Kurup case, apart from its pulpy thrills, was the fact that “this was the Kerala Police’s most successful failure”, he said. “The case could have ended up as being a missing person’s case for Chacko and a murder case for Kurup. The police was smart enough to unearth the entire plot. But they couldn’t go all the way.”

The film follows Kurup from the 1960s to the late 1980s. On the advice of production designer Banglan, Rajendran chose to shoot in real locations rather than sets, such as Kerala, Mumbai, Gujarat, and Dubai.

“For one shot in front of VT station [Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus] at 6.30 am, for which we had to stop the traffic for thirty seconds, we and the crew set up a crane and waited since four in the morning for the sun to rise,” Rajendran recalled.

Srinath Rajendran.

Malayali heartthrob Salmaan’s portrayal of Kurup, as seen in the trailer, has drawn some criticism. About allegations of glorifying a murderer, Rajendran argued that “conmen are supposed to have swagger” and “retro costumes and colours will automatically look fashionable today”.

Chacko’s son, Jithin, who was born a few months after his father’s death, has seen Kurup. “He liked it, and even said that there are so many facts that he did not know himself, and he would want people to know about it,” Rajendran said.

Rajendran and Salmaan go way back as collaborators. Salmaan made his acting debut in Rajendran’s first film Second Show in 2012. “Back then, he was an evolving actor, and he is still evolving,” Rajendran observed. “He hasn’t peaked as an actor yet. What has changed is that he has a daughter now, and the innocence of that experience reflects in him as a person.”

Salmaan’s production company Wayfarer Films, which has bankrolled Kurup, had considered releasing the film online because of the coronavirus pandemic. “But the film was conceived in 2012 as a theatrical experience, and I am glad I found support all the way,” Rajendran said.

Kurup (2021).