This Tuesday, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese announced that his Film Foundation will be presenting a restored version of 1979’s Kummatty, directed by the late director-screenwriter Aravindan Govndan.

The announcement follows an earlier reveal of Scorsese’s ‘Restoration Screening Room’, where he aimed to host film screenings of rare, unearthed classics for free. Scorsese’s Instagram post reads:

“Govindan’s KUMMATTY is an adaptation of a Central Kerala folktale featuring a partly mythic and partly real magician called Kummatty. A sweet and engaging story and a visually stunning film, KUMMATTY is a must-see, especially since it has been largely unavailable outside of India until now. Also be sure to watch the special features with Govindan’s son, Ramu and Film Heritage Foundation founder Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

KUMMATTY was restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Film Heritage Foundation, and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with General Pictures and the family of Aravindan Govindan. Funding provided by the Material World Foundation.”

What Is Kummatty About?

Released in 1979, Govindan worked on the film’s script along with fellow Keralite, dramatist, and Padma Bhushan awardee, K.N. Pannicker.

Kummatty – which loosely translates to ‘Boogeyman’ – was largely created as a fantasy film for children, based off a local folktale native to Central Kerala. The story concerns a scary travelling magician who arrives in a village, and across the film’s 90-minute runtime, endears himself to its children.

Soon after interacting with the children, Kummatty turns the children into animals as a parting gift, before turning them back into their original state – all except a young boy, who remains in the form of a dog. The boy – now stuck in the form of a mongrel – roams around and is soon adopted by a kind young girl. Despite being treated well, the dog-boy finds himself out of place, and is soon recognized by his mother.

After a series of exorcism rituals, all of which fail, Kummatty returns to the village and realises his errors. He quickly returns the boy to his original state, after which the boy immediately runs home, and sets his caged pet parrot free.

Kummatty

Govindan, who was 44 at the time of the film’s release, synthesised much of his own character into the film. As the son of a humorist and with a 13-year-long career as a cartoonist behind him, the science graduate-turned artist was well at ease working with the film’s many child actors, most of whom were all local village children, which surprised critics at the time. The role of Kummatty was portrayed by Ramunni – a well-lauded musician and dancer.

Kummatty

Another element of Govindan’s creative legacy in this film was his work as a composer and musician. Having studied Hindustani classical, the director also scored a few films, including National Award Winning V.K. Pavitran’s Yaro Oral. As a result, Kummatty’s central themes and core ideas are largely communicated through its 12-song soundtrack, which draw heavily on local culture.

Several voices from Kerala appreciated Scorsese’s attempt to preserve and highlight their culture, thanking the director for his contribution to Malayalam cinema.

Apart from Kummatty, the restoration program aims to showcase Federico Fellini’s La Strada, a film noir double feature of Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour and Arthur D. Ripley’s The Chase, as well as John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.

(Featured Image Credits: The Film Foundation)