Sukumara Kurup and Dulquer Salman
Sukumara Kurup (left) and South Indian actor Dulquer Salman playing the role of Kurup in the flashy biopic on India’s longest on-the-run fugitive. Image Credit: K. P. Devadasan/Gulf News

I loved every second of the 2 hours and 37 minutes I spent watching Kurup, the flashy biopic on India’s longest on-the-run fugitive, who is from the same tiny south Indian state of Kerala as I am.

But I do have a gripe with the producers - they could have asked me for a soundtrack suggestion or a tagline to describe what the movie is all about.

If they did, I would have given one instantly: There’s a killer on the road…

Yes, that one line from The Doors’ anthem Riders On The Storm says all that’s needed to be said about Sukumara Kurup, who has evaded the police in Kerala and the rest of India for more than 37 years. While the fates of other long-in-the-hiding fugitives Carlos the Jackal and that of a conman and murderer Charles Sobhraj have long been decided, that of Kurup is stuck in myth-making. The movie has just added more spice to the whole drama around the man himself.

Sukumara Kurup melted into India’s vast underbelly some time on January 24/25 in that distant year of 1984 and hasn’t been seen since in polite society or by the law.

Since that moment, a generation of Keralites - including the many who have moved to just about every corner of the world - have brought him up into their conversations on every possible occasion. A friend or associate not been seen or heard for a couple of days? Well, then he definitely has ‘done a Sukumara Kurup’. Anyone ignoring phone calls will be chided with a terse ‘are you learning to be a Sukumara Kurup?’.

His name and frayed memories of what he perpetrated on January 21, 1984, has been etched in the collective subconscious of a generation.

Perpetuating those haunting memories

Knowingly or otherwise, Dulquer Salman, who easily fits into the role of Kurup, will help perpetuate those memories. Old urban legends of who Kurup was and where he might be are getting revived, and new ones were created. The movie has the style and the high gloss production values to make most of the narrative work.

The music score is all heavy synthesizers and pulsing riffs as if the music composer wanted to drop in a few punches of his own to the action unfolding on the screen. Kurup is the Malayalam film industry’s answer to Bollywood’s Once Upon a Time in Mumbai sagas, which too gave their spin to the 1970s and 1980s, but focused on the Bombay underworld. However, with Kurup, I would have still loved to see The killer on the road… somewhere.

Because that’s what the real-life Kurup is. He planned the perfect crime, but it was unravelled within three days. A murder for identity theft. But Sukumara Kurup did get one plan right: to disappear without a trace and keep it that way for nearly 40 years.

Body found in a burnt-out car

It was sometime in late January that I remember casting a quick eye over a bit of news about a body being found in a burnt-out car. Sure, the newspapers those days had their fair share of gory deaths retold. Accidents were a common occurrence on the state’s highways. Keralites always think they are better drivers than what their roads can handle. What caught the eye was that this particular burnt-to-a-crisp vehicle was not involved in an accident. There were no buses or trucks or other cars in the vicinity, and the vehicle itself was found slightly off from the road.

The body was assumed to be of one Sukumara Kurup, based on the black Ambassador’s registration details. Kurup was a wealthy expatriate, who was back in Kerala for what was to be a holiday.

Within four days of ‘Kurup’s body’ being discovered on January 22, what could’ve been a straightforward case of another road accident in Kerala claiming the life of an unfortunate victim, became one of the most chronicled criminal acts in the state. And then went on to be the tale of India’s longest-running fugitive from justice.

Insurance scam

The body, it was later revealed, belonged to K.J. Chacko, a film representative. The only reason he was picked up and murdered was that his body could pass off as belonging to Kurup. Kurup had put together a relatively easy insurance scam that would see him fake his death but at the expense of killing another man.

All credit to Kerala Police

The Kerala Police managed to solve a case that initially looked like a car catching fire and killing the driver into a full-on murder should be a matter of eternal credit. All the other perpetrators were caught and booked almost immediately after the murder. But Kurup’s escape and being at large places a rider on all the obvious achievements. The mastermind is yet to be caught, slipping perennially away from the investigative agencies in India.

There have been multiple instances of Sukumara Kurup being spotted from all over India. But with all such sightings, facts have come in the way of a good story.

Truth be said, Kerala Police have distinguished themselves in cracking other murder cases in the recent past, such as the Uthara murder (where her husband used a cobra to killer her), and the serial killing spree by Jolly (where she killed multiple members of her family using cyanide poison mixes).

An infinitely better effort

So, let us stick with Kurup the movie. Dulquer and the director, Srinath Rajendran, have made an infinitely better piece of cinema on the killer fugitive. There was an earlier effort at deciphering what had happened: NH 47, which was released in 1984 and ended up with a limited audience. The movie script was based almost entirely on newspaper headlines of the times, and the director added some sleaze to get more viewers.

NH 47’s contribution to chronicling what happened that night in January will remain as a footnote in history. Thankfully, 2021 Kurup manages to get it right.

Whatever be his actual living status, Sukumara Kurup will live on in infamy. More Keralites will keep uttering his name, in that regard the movie has given the man and the myths around him fresh currency.

So, should Bad to the Bone be a better soundtrack for the movie?

Notorious criminals
Image Credit: Seyyed de LLata/Gulf News