I am not one to write about movies, mostly because I watch every new movie months after its release and by then, my post has no relevance. I have written about movies only when there has been something about the theme or execution that has made me really happy or really pissed off. This blog, is not a movie review in any way, and I haven’t even watched it yet. But I still chose to write about it after seeing raving reviews of the movie and its execution, only because I had been intrigued and excited by the plotline from the time this movie became the talk of the town. And the most exciting and heartwarming part of it has been none other than the lead actor, Mammootty. In short, this blog is more about him donning a part that I never imagined him to, and how that is a super-big deal. Of course, the movie I am talking about is Kaathal – The Core, where Mammootty plays a closeted homosexual man. There’s a line I never thought I would write. I’m sure that there must have been a number of posts on this already. But will that stop me from writing my piece? Hell no!!
Homosexuality has been a topic of discussions and quite a few movies for a good ten years or more now. While homosexual or any queer character has been treated as a caricature purely for a comedic purpose in movies till recently, there have been many movies that tried to treat the subject with the maturity and seriousness that it requires, especially in a society as homophobic as ours. But more often than not, these movies, even the ones that got critical acclaim, fell flat with the moviegoers, owing to the subject that is still taboo or a matter of disgust and ridicule among our people.
Among the Malayalam movies that have tried to bring some much-needed attention to this subject, the ones that gained acclaim at differing levels have been Mumbai Police, Moothon, and My Life Partner. There have been others too, but honestly, except for one of the titles I remember only as a blur, I can’t remember any – no offense to the makers of those. Anyway, my point is that, even in this age, there haven’t been many movies that have managed to make even the slightest difference to the way people treat this subject.
Now, while a huge part of the credit goes to the makers of these movies, the actors who have taken up these roles deserve an equal credit, I would say. Because it is them that people see as the characters. And how they approach the character and execute the makers’ vision is what decides how much the character and the topic of homosexuality, in general, is accepted at least to a certain extent by the public. While Sudev Nair did an amazing job with his role in My Life Partner, as I have read from so many reviews, and while there certainly was a risk involved in it for an actor who was still shaping his career and working towards becoming successful, the risk that Prithviraj and Nivin Pauly took in taking up the role of homosexual characters exceeded that of Sudev, because these two had an “image” already that they had to protect. For not worrying about any backlash from the conservative majority of cinemagoers, they do deserve a huge round of applause.
Even then, I believe the overall theme of those movies and their characters’ arcs must have helped to an extent in cushioning the backlash they could have faced. (Spoiler ahead) Especially for Prithviraj, whose character, while showing the stark reality of the immense fear a closeted homosexual person faces in being outed in a society like ours, still ended up being the bad guy. That must have been a semi-relief to many of the conservative viewers who couldn’t digest the fact that he had chosen to play this character.
It is here that Mammootty’s decision to play a closeted homosexual man facing the repercussions of being outed in Kaathal – The Core, needs to be viewed not just as a bold move, but a pathbreaking one at that. We are talking about a man of his stature, a superstar, a Megastar as he is called, who, despite taking up antihero or antagonistic roles without fear, has a colossal image to protect. While one could argue that his oceanic fan following is one of the reasons that he could take up this role without fear, the other side of the coin is that this oceanic fan following could very well be the reason for him to not take up this role, owing to the huge risk involved in being in the bad books of those viewers whose aversion and absolute hatred towards homosexuality and anything queer surpasses their hero worship any day. And deciding that it was a price he was willing to pay, was no mean feat. That too, as a practicing member of a religion that considers homosexuality as a huge sin, and for which reason, this movie has even been banned in some Middle Eastern countries. Forgive me for bringing religion into this, but my intention is not to say that the other religions are in any way open or welcoming towards the queer community – they aren’t. However, in making this decision knowing the religious backlash he could face as one of the most prominent and influential faces belonging to his community, he deserves another round of applause.
But more than anything else, the biggest round of applause he deserves is for showing the people of our society that he, a highly respected and devout person in his 70s can open his mind to the plight of a marginalized section of our society, and take a huge step in portraying their struggles to the rest of the society, thus trying to make things at least a little different for these people. It is for showing our society that if he can do it, then the others, even highly educated ones, who not only hold on to their regressive beliefs, but also use that as a weapon against the ones who are different from them, have no excuse. “I am old, I’ve lived my whole life like this, don’t try to change me now,” “This is what I have been taught by my parents and my religion,” “This is my belief. I’m right and they are wrong” – to all who use these cliché excuses for their despicable words and behaviour, learn – learn from Mammootty! Mathew Devassy from Kaathal – The Core is nothing short of a slap on your face!
Also published on Medium.