“Manithar unarndhukolla ithu manitha kaadhal alla! Athaiyum thaandi punithamanathu… (This is no mortal love for humans to understand! This is beyond that, pure…)” echoes twice in Manjummel Boys’ trailer. An iconic dialogue from Santhana Bharathi’s Kamal Haasan-starrer Gunaa (1991), which is recited by the male lead (Kamal) to convey his unwavering love to his female counterpart (Roshini), the deliberate decision to use this dialogue in Manjummel Boys’ trailer initially appeared intriguing. But upon watching director Chidambaram’s survival thriller, it becomes evident that no other dialogue can fully capture the soul of Manjummel Boys.

Boasting a star-studded cast including Soubin Shahir, Sreenath Bhasi, Balu Varghese, Ganapathy, and Jean Paul Lal, among others, Manjummel Boys too is a film about unwavering love; not a romantic one though, but one grounded in camaraderie among a group of friends from a small locality called Manjummel in Ernakulam district of Kerala. At the same time, the film is also about hope, resilience and perseverance, and the fact that it is based on a true story makes it even more impactful.

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Set in 2006, a group of 10 happy-go-lucky young men, among whom a few earn a livelihood through odd jobs, embark on a dream trip to Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. Led by the group’s elder, Kuttan (Soubin Shahir), they explore the lengths and breadths of the hill town with youthful exuberance and absolutely no inhibitions. Towards the end of their trip, Sudheesh (Deepak Parambol) realises they overlooked a major tourist attraction — the Guna caves (Devil’s Kitchen) where Kamal’s Gunaa was shot.

 Upon reaching, they realise that the real cave is sealed off. “Courageously”, they trespass the gates and begin exploring its depths. In a sudden turn of events, Subash (Sreenath Bhasi) falls into one of the deepest pits in the cave, leaving the others in panic. Despite attempts to seek help, locals and police offer no assistance, as “none of the 13 people who fell into the Devil’s Kitchen previously have returned alive, and their bodies remain unrecovered”. The remainder of the film focuses on the nine men’s determined efforts to save their friend.

One of the initial draws to Manjummel Boys is its restrained approach to depicting the era. Unlike many recent Malayalam films, such as Tovino Thomas’ Anweshippin Kandethum, which often inundate viewers with excessive period details like old film posters, Manjummel Boys uses only what’s necessary to convey the setting. From the red bus, which traversed the Manjummel route until recently, to the characters’ attire, the car they travel in, the absence of mobile phones and the presence of photographers at tourist spots, etc, the film effectively establishes the period without overwhelming audiences.