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Reviving Chathan’s lore

With films like ‘Bramayugam’, mystical characters from Kerala lore continue to awe new audiences

A still from Malayalam horror film, Bramayugam
A still from Malayalam horror film, Bramayugam

“I can’t find my Insta post on Kuttichathan. I wonder if this mysterious disappearance has to do with him,” joked my friend about this supernatural character from Malayalam folklore, who is known for his mischievous streak.

Currently, Kuttichathan is also the diabolical antagonist (played by Mammootty) spooking Malayali audiences with his telekinetic and soul-sucking abilities in the movie Bramayugam, directed by Rahul Sadasivan. Set in a rundown mansion and shot in black and white, the period film has quite a few spine-tingling moments but beyond that, what it also did was it introduced me, a non-resident Keralite, to a new facet of Kuttichathan. Who was this vile shapeshifting character who was the diametric opposite of that friendly spirit in My Dear Kuttichathan?

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If you were a kid who grew up in the 1980s and the 1990s, My Dear Kuttichathan (Chhota Chetan in Hindi) was your first introduction to this supernatural entity. Released in 1984 as India’s first 3D film, the 3D glasses were as much a conversation point as the young Chathan’s antics. The 2022 film, Kumari, starring Aishwarya Lekshmi, features the Chathan in a benefic role too. There have been a few iterations of this supernatural character in Malayalam films in the last couple of years—the most adorable (no, really) being from the 2023 National Award- winning animation film, Kandittund! (Seen It!). 

A still from National Award-winning animation short film, Kandittund
A still from National Award-winning animation short film, Kandittund (Studio Eeksaurus)

Produced by Studio Eeksaurus, a Mumbai-based film production house and animation studio, the almost 12-minute-long animation short that was released on YouTube on 14 November, 2021, is a delightful documentation of ghosts and ghouls from Kerala folklore.

Using hand-drawn animation by the film’s director Adithi Krishnadas, sound design by Resul Pookutty and music score by Nandu Kartha, the short film introduces the viewer to spooky characters like the eenampechi (pangolin) and arukola (faceless spectre) through some imaginative story-telling by P.N.K. Panicker, the nonagenarian father of Studio Eeksaurus’s founder, Suresh Eriyat. Panicker’s sing-song voice describes Kuttichathan as a mischievous spirit who is generally called upon when you want to sort your adversary out. “By pelting stones or scattering excreta, they pester your enemy till he cracks,” he narrates.

Friendly ghost? Evil spirit? Mischievous goblin? Who is this Kuttichathan? The answer to the question depends on who you ask. Part of folklore and religious culture of north and central Kerala, for a lot of people, he is an entity who can be used to do good or bad. Kannur-based doctor Tradib Jayapal describes him as “a god for the common man”. He is the guy you go to when you want your prayer to be answered fast, says Jayapal.

According to Tantric lore, Kuttichathan is a little spirit who can be conjured up to do your bidding, explains Prem K., a Bengalurean who loves studying supernatural phenomena. “However, the point with all entities you conjure up is that you end up having a battle between master and the servant,” he says. It is this power play between the master and servant that forms the crux of Bramayugam’s story.

In a way, what the movie has done is revive an old lore, presenting it to a younger generation in a more aesthetic way with high technical production values and a great cast. For Eriyat, it’s a winning formula. “I have had Malayalis everywhere telling me that Kandittund! reminded them of their grandparents who’d narrate similar stories to them,” says Eriyat. There are requests for a sequel. “People want to see more of these stories,” he says, underlining an almost universal truth—everyone loves a well-made story. The scarier, the better.

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