A subject, word, or action that is avoided for religious or social reasons.
(Apologies for the spoilers.)
Sexuality has always been a touchy subject in our society, and, as an extension, in our films which, more often than not, hold a mirror to the world around us. The mainstream industry has often treated it as taboo, or ridiculed it with its caricaturish portrayal.
The Hindi film industry had gems like My Brother Nikhil and Aligarh, and the odd strand in Kapoor & Sons, which dealt with it, and more. But they have been few and far between.
Down south, in the Malayalam film industry, which is often hailed for its progressive and realistic storylines and portrayal, too, there have been mainstream films like Deshanadakili Karayarilla, which have put the message across without frills. In fact, when Prithviraj Sukumaran and Nivin Pauly – both of who are stars in their own right – took the plunge with Mumbai Police and Moothon, it was a coming-of-age moment for the young brigade.
But now they have a challenger. A certain 72-year-old. A legend, who could have easily followed in the footsteps of his contemporaries who are trying to outdo each other in the ‘crore club’ race. Instead, he is reinventing himself as an actor, one film at a time. Post pandemic, he has thrown caution to the winds and is on a streak like no other.
He is Mammootty.
If Unda heralded the ‘era’, Bheeshma Parvam, Puzhu, Rorschach and Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam brightened his aura. And with Jeo Baby’s Kaathal – The Core, he has just upped his game. Mathew Devassy (Mammootty) is a common man – worked in a cooperative bank, is a party worker, has a wife Omana (Jyothika) who is employed, a teenage daughter and an ageing father. But, right from the start, one can sense there is something simmering. Baby and the filmmaker, who shook us all with The Great Indian Kitchen, and his crew are at their best here, slowly but surely revealing the reason for the tension in the air. There’s an election to be fought and won, but Mathew and Omana are fighting their own silent battles. Soon, the battle lines become blurred, and it turns into a war against the society’s idea and interpretation of ‘taboo’.
For a subject which is often misunderstood and misinterpreted in cinema, Kaathal – The Core gets full marks for its sensible and sensitive treatment. Take a bow, scriptwriters Paulson Skaria and Adarsh Sukumaran! In fact, it’s the first time Baby is directing a film scripted by another.
For the music though, he chose to go with his trusted aide, Mathews Pulickan. Another great decision, we must say, as music plays a role as important as any other character in the film.
Which brings us to the characters in Kaathal – The Core. It’s difficult to imagine anybody else in Mathew’s shoes once you have seen Mammootty in that role. The nuances, the body language, the voice modulations… the master is truly at work here.
But, the pleasant surprise in the film is the support cast. In fact, to call the other actors the ‘support cast’, is an insult really. For instance, Sudhi as Thangan will blow your mind. A man of few words, Thangan’s fleeting exchanges with Mathew are a sight to behold. Talk about unearthing a gem!
Admitted Jyothika brings in more star value than anything else. But she holds her own as the firm yet caring Omana. The language barrier is a bit of a stumbling block in the close-up scenes. As is the touch of melodrama right at the end, but it will be nitpicking to be honest.
Kaathal – The Core is a watershed moment in Malayalam cinema, much like The Great Indian Kitchen. Both Baby and Mammootty have shattered a glass ceiling, the sound of which, one hopes, will reverberate loudly in the society and for long.
Film: Kaathal – The Core
Director: Jeo Baby
Cast: Mammootty, Jyothika, Sudhi and others