Imaging geographies in the film: Semiotic analysis of the portrayal of Kumbalangi in the Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights

Imaging geographies in the film: Semiotic analysis of the portrayal of Kumbalangi in the Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights

The chapter is part of Media Management in Communicating Tourism: Edited Essays (ISBN: 9781648054341).

Teenu AFa, Soniya Antonya and Dr. Juby Thomasb

It has become a trend among people to visit the places that have been portrayed in films which made a remarkable hit in the box-office. Kumbalangi, an Island village located in the suburbs of Kochi, Kerala and is a noted spot that caters to the local fishermen community. The present study focuses on the semiotic analysis of the Malayalam film Kumbalangi nights; to identify the portrayal of this geographic location as a part of the narratives to the audience. The purpose of the research is to identify the various elements and techniques used in the film. Kumbalangi Nights portrays the only movie which depicts this geographical destination, the culture the flora and fauna. Hence, the film can have a tremendous impact on audiences across the globe, across time. The portrayal of the raw lifestyle of the fisherman community, their food habits, conversations, and actions can be other influencing factors. This study focuses on the semiotic analysis of the film, on how the destination ‘Kumbalangi’ is being visually presented to the audience. The movie revolves around the plot of the tourism sector, where there are scenes of a foreigner residing and getting along with the localities, the scenes that describe coir making are few direct conveyances of culture and other connotative and denotative aspects will be explored through the study.

Key Words: Kumbalangi, Semiotic Analysis, Symbolic and Oral Representation

a – MA Student, Kristu Jayanti College, Bangalore, India
b – Assistant Professor, Kristu Jayanti College, Bangalore, India


In the current scenario, many commercial, as well as non-commercial movies, are finding a space in the hearts of people with its realistic film making technique. The films are said to be realistic with their actual depiction of the destination or the locations where the story sets in. With the technical innovation, the real portrayal of destination without losing its aesthetic essence is possible nowadays. When some filmmakers still banging on graphics to reduce the expenses some others opening the window to the world of reality. By knowing the actual interest of the viewers, the filmmakers in the Malayalam industry makes efforts to embrace this effective method of storytelling.

Many films already hit the box-office with this new practice. This includes Maheshinte prathikaram, Ordinary, Iyobinte Pustakam, Ottayal, In Love with Kerala and many more that can be added to the list. This real depiction had made a strong impact in the tourism industry. Kumbalangi Nights, a Malayalam blockbuster movie has succeeded in capturing the beauty of the place called Kumbalangi, an Island village located in the suburbs of Kochi, Kerala. After the movie, the place becomes popular among people within Kerala as well as audiences across the globe.

The present study focuses on how the real portrayal of Kumbalalangi has been depicted through the movie and was successful in capturing all elements representing the destination. The study also concentrates on finding the elements in the movie which require ardent observation from the audience’s side to understand the connotative as well as denotative aspects connected with the destination.

When the filmmakers adopt an extraordinary initiative to bring more connection with the destination, the various elements and treatments within the movie may also directly or indirectly influence the target audience. As per the review of the literature, it’s evident that the movie had an impact on promoting tourism in Kumbalalangi. Thus, an exploration of the imageries of this destination and its influence on audiences is highly significant. When it comes to Tourism, which is a requisite factor for the economic development of the state, studies of this kind can be beneficial to both government and businesses.

An analysis of the film provides wide variety of angles, which portrays the traits of Kumbalangi and mostly their culture through various imageries. The shots of the movie have many connotative and denotative meanings, where a majority of those; is used in the portrayal of the destination, people, and their culture.

Review of Literature

An article on ‘Destination Marketing and Promotion through Film Tourism: An Empirical Study of Hadoti Region of Rajasthan’ by A Sharma talks about the factors which attract the film producers/directors to shoot at a certain destination. The article also highlights the factors which can attract tourists. It includes films; television shows which offers effective way of promotion compared to traditional tourism promotional campaigns. In the article, the researcher has shared his observation and analysis after an in-depth study about the growing trend of destination positioning in films and also said that; similar to brand positioning, Destination positioning is also seen as the vital tool of advertising as it gives access to wider markets. The article makes use of various examples including Indian films as well as Hollywood movies to support the study.

The article, Destination Promotion through Malayalam Cinema: A Study on the Idukki District of Kerala by BM Balan talks about the portrayal of the place Idukki in Malayalam Movies. The article mainly focuses on the growing trend among tourists to visit places which are being used as filming locations. The researcher also concluded that the trend of visiting the filming locations have immensely helped in the exponential increase of tourism growth in those places and a notable influence on the livelihood of the people residing in those areas.

The article, ‘How film and television programs can promote tourism and increase the competitiveness of tourist destinations’ by Claudia Tuclea and Puiu Nistoreanu; talks about the influences of film in people for making their travel choices. The researcher observed the significant value of this strand of tourism to the economy.


General Objective of the study is to analyze the destination portrayal in the movie ‘Kumbalangi Nights.’

Specific Objectives of the study are as follows:

  • To depict how each element in the scene portray the destination; through a symbolic study
  •  To analyze how the verbal conversations, play a role in imaging geographies in the film
  • To depict the connotative and denotative meaning hidden through symbolic and oral representation of the film


The data was collected using both primary and secondary data collection methods. The researchers adopted a qualitative approach to gather the primary data and employed semiotic analysis as a method to analyze the content, to identify the symbolic and oral representations of the destination, people and their culture. The Malayalam movie ‘Kumbalangi Nights’ is one of the movies that portray one single destination throughout the film. For a detailed study on the topic; secondary tools such as journals, blogs, and other online sources were taken. The movie is evaluated in a tabular way by arranging different categories of elements from the scenes; and analyzing its impact and effect through Icon, Index, and Symbol. Also, oral representation of the movie is studied through connotative and denotative analysis of the conversations.

Data Analysis and Findings

Researchers focused on the following criteria with the help of a coding sheet to analyze the destination portrayal which are as follows:
a) Elements of imageries
b) Type of elements placed
c) frequency of portrayal of various elements to identify the significance given to each element,
d) characters’ involvement and setting of the scene and finally the meaning conveyed through the settings.

An analysis of the various elements of imageries portrayed in the movie resulted in identifying the following elements associated with the lower middle-class fishing community. Fishnet, Fish Curry, Aquarium, Fish cap, Bralu Fish; Mosquito Repellant Machine, Mosquito bat; Landscape Portraits, Harbour, Cat, Cactus and Shell curtain depicts the richness of fishing community life. The daily encounters of such elements and their associations with the characters throughout the movie depict ‘Kumbalangi’ as a predominantly fishing community area. The other elements such as Coir, Mangrove Forest, Bamboo houses, depict the ecotourism aspects of the locality. The depiction of church, statues and cross denotes the religious practices of the area.

Oral depictions of Varkala issue (rape of a tourist in another locality) and necessity of scholarship for education are the other socio-economic issues portrayed in the movie. When the child artist says that he has a scholarship, we can assume that it is because he belongs to an OBC, where Latin community comes under OBC, and Kumbalangi is a place where the majority is Latin Christians. And it is said the predecessors of Latin Community are Fishermen. Mentioning of Tuesday being a holiday gives a hint to the prospectus tourists the possibilities of challenges they may encounter during the visit.

Visual representation was predominant to depict the scenic beauty and life of fishing community. The Fishnet is the element that is shown more frequently. It was made common, to show the destination and its main occupation. Also, Fish curry, since it is obvious that it would be their staple curry. It is visually seen in both the Hero’s and Heroine’s house and the characters mentions about it as well. Whereas, through dialogues and conversations the socio-political and economic conditions are depicted.

Frequency of various elements

How many times an element is placed is very important in creating an impact on the mindset of audience. The very best example of it is the fish Net. It has been shown on 21 times in the movies, visually. And that sets the background of the film. Also showing shell curtain in the actor’s house depicts the significance of shells, which are mostly found near water bodies.

The aquarium is another such example, which is shown in both the Hero’s and Heroine’s house; four times. Depiction of the presence of the cat is a connotative relation of the presence of fish in the surroundings. Cat was found near the Hero’s house and areas that are associated with fish. The important element is Kavaru which is placed orally by the Hero and is seen visually thrice. Kavaru is bioluminescence, popularly known as sea sparkle, sighted along coasts, estuaries and brackish waters. The present study also identified that the depiction of ‘Bioluminescence’ (Kavaru), indicating the magical glow in the waters in Kumbalangi Nights as a rare magical phenomenon evokes the curiosity of audience. Coir is portrayed visually and orally multiple times. The purpose of placing coir was a direct promotion of the destination, where the heroine, who is a tourist guide, speaks about coir, how it is made.

The imageries of mangrove forest are another major element other than the island and depicting a blend of three: Bioluminescence, island and mangrove forest, the film makers successfully communicated to the audience that the destination ‘Kumbalangi’ as a model tourism village in Kerala, famous for its backwaters and a unique aquatic ecosystem.


The researchers found that through the movie Kumbalangi Nights, the destination ‘Kumbalangi’ is well portrayed with sufficient placement of various elements in a realistic manner. There were few iconic, symbolic, and Indexical depictions of the place, people and their lifestyle and culture.  The oral representation of Bralu fish, connecting to the life of a human being is a very best example of symbolic conversations. The hero says when Bralu is passing in water; it can be spotted if it is surrounded by its children showing an orange circle. And, he says, it is because of the children that the fish is caught by any fisherman.

The researchers identified that the movie depicted more symbolic elements connecting to marine life and depicted Kumbalangi as a marine destination with unique features. The movie has various connotative and denotative meanings hidden, especially about the socio – political and economic aspects. The character selection and behaviours depicted the feminine and masculine aspects. In terms of the promotion of the destination, it had used maximum realistic elements, but the present study suggests an incorporation of more intensive elements that communicate the lifestyle of people in Kumbalangi than, the raw representation of marine elements could have been much more impactful.


Balan, B. M. Destination Promotion through Malayalam Cinema: A Study on the Idukki District of Kerala.

Nair, P. (2002). In modernity’s wake: Transculturality, deterritorialization and the question of community in Icíar Bollaín’s Flores de otro mundo (Flowers From Another World). Post Script, 21(2), 38.

Sharma, A. (2017). Destination Marketing and Promotion Through Film Tourism: An Empirical Study of Hadoti Region of Rajasthan. Journal of Applied Management and Investments, 6(2), 118-129.

Talbot, J. L. (1999). This is not an exit: the road narrative in contemporary American literature and film (Doctoral dissertation, Texas Tech University).

Tuclea, C., & Nistoreanu, P. (2011). How film and television programs can promote tourism and increase the competitiveness of tourist destinations. Cactus Tourism Journal, 2(2), 25-30.

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