Malayalam Films are already well-known for their versatility, ingenuity, and uniqueness. Kerala is highly renowned for its thriving film industry and presents an annual film festival that draws viewers from all over the world. They have set a precedent for filmmaking and storytelling.
One such story is Kaathal - The Core, directed by Jeo Baby, also the director of The Great Indian Kitchen. The movie was a conversation starter among fans of Jeo Baby (the director) and Mammooty as well.
Mathew Devassy, whom the story centres around, is elected to compete in his hometown elections and is suddenly hit with a family crisis when his wife of 20 years, Omana, files for a divorce, claiming that he is gay. Thereafter, the film explores and presents the aftereffects of the case on family members and the community.
The setting of the story is simple yet fascinating: Mathew’s dad, his wife, his brother-in-law, and even his daughter are involved in the scene. Presenting the movie from a family-dynamic perspective is a clever move as it speaks to the general audience about a taboo topic.
The movie is slow and unfolds gently, but it is poignant for the LGBTQ community in India. Seeing Mammooty play a gay character against the backdrop of an Indian household was much needed.
As Mathew accepts his candidacy and his wife files for divorce, you will wonder why she did it and_ as the story unfolds, how it impacts every member of that family. As we slowly get to know why she filed for divorce, you have this small feeling of anticipation about how the movie will deal with this topic.
The dialogue in the entire movie is praiseworthy because it avoids using innuendos and hidden phrases, as well as reducing the characters to mere caricatures. The director has allowed the story to manifest in a beautiful way and with the gentleness it deserves.
The film is not your typical art film with hit songs. The director has deliberately kept certain elements low-key, like sound, drama, and even emotions.
Although the film has garnered a lot of positive reviews, some on social media have criticised the actor for taking on such a role. Anti-LGBTQ groups have asked people to boycott the film. Muslim clerics claim that the movie will “brainwash the youth.”.
"He's an actor that people admire a lot, so when he plays this character, it makes you think how much thought he put into picking this role and making the film," says Athul PV, an organiser of the Kerala Queer Pride.
Omana stands out as a strong character in the film as she takes a decision long overdue.
As the story unfolds, we are somewhat shocked by the knowledge that she realized his true preferences right after they got married, and she felt she had no choice but to keep quiet.
The scenes in the courtroom also show the complexity of divorces and how difficult and painful they can be for the petitioners themselves. The topic of the film adds another layer of complexity since the situation is completely different from that of a straight relationship.
There is no animosity or conflict in the relationship in itself; it is just unfortunate that they ended up together. The courtroom scene also serves as a way for the director to ask the audience relevant questions about LGBTQ—both the people and the relationships they have.
The most powerful scene of the movie is the climax, when Mathew talks to his father and Omana, when she asks, “Am I the only one to be rescued, Mathew? Don’t you want to rescue yourself?” and “You can sleep next to me tonight.”
This scene shows that they had deep feelings of respect for each other that went beyond the rules of romance. Their platonic love stands out as pure, unconventional, and full of love.
There were quite a few beautiful moments in the film, including the double-packed emotional climax but also the scene where we see Thankan (Mathew’s love interest) and Mathew together for the first time, the distance between the couple feeding the baby outside the court, the ladies taking driving lessons and their families feeling their daughters will be safe with Thankan, and of course, the ending where Mathew drops Omana at the restaurant, Omana’s unconditional love for Mathew, and the love and respect they show each other towards the end.
However, it also had some painful moments: the courtroom was painful as it was enlightening; the strained scene between Mathew and his daughter, where she is playing basketball and he leaves without telling her; the scene where Mathew’s dad and Omana have a conversation near the kitchen; the scene where he testifies in the court; and, of course, the scene between Mathew and Thankan while raining.
Many may see the movie as “too simple,” but the simplistic style of storytelling and filmmaking has helped the audience understand the issue at a deeper level. This film is intended to be easily consumed by society as a whole.
Kaathal proves to be a different type of story: "We've not seen this difficult phase—of a closeted man coming out of a heterosexual marriage—in Malayalam cinema," says Roshni Prabhakaran, an academic who has worked on gender representations in films.
Prijith PK, the founder of Queerythm, a community-based organisation, says, “Kaathal tells the story of many men in our society. The film shows these are people in our own homes."
He also says, "The film is not above criticism, but it's a daring attempt." I wish Thankan’s character was more nuanced and got some spotlight. The lack of conversation between Mathew and Thankan initially felt irritating, but as we reach the end, we understand why the storyteller made that choice.
The hesitation between them and the mere eye contact did not just intensify our interest and curiosity but also made us realise that Mathew was unwilling to come out and be free. Yet there was a gentleness to their relationship, and Thankan as a silent admirer made it more romantic, longing, and sad, and the audience needed that sadness to understand the point the movie was trying to make.
Actor Mammooty deserves high praise for playing this role, as no other actor in Indian cinema was brave enough to take this up in their 70s. He is constantly reinventing himself and he says he wants his movies to reflect that. He is a superstar with a legacy of three National Awards and a huge fan following. Jeo Baby says Mammooty “understood the film immediately and was willing to do it."
Actress Jyothika played the role of Omana admirably. She is silent, yet bold and graceful, and she wants to get through the divorce in the same manner. She recently said in an interview that she no longer wants to play women as stock characters but rather present their innate strength.
Edited by Kevin Moonuparayil
Photo Credit: The Hindu
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