Kuruthi: A study of hate and the will to fight against it
The Malayalam movie industry has regained a reputation for telling stories that must be told, even if they aren't the ones the audience asked for. ‘Kuruthi’ is a fine example of this trend, a sublime effort by director Manu Warrier in his Malayalam debut.
The movie is an essay about hatred and the will to fight against it, which will stay with you long after the two-hour run time. The opening visual, an aerial shot of a police jeep in the dead of night, illuminated only by the flashing lights, will make you sit down and pay attention, and the last frame of the movie is likely to haunt you.
The story is set in a forest area near Erattupetta, where Ibru (Roshan Mathew) a simple working-class man lives with his family, next door to his friend Preman and his sister Suma. Both families are still struggling to come to terms with the losses they have suffered due to nature's fury and people’s neglect. Random chance or fate brings a conflict from the wider world to Ibru’s doorstep, or rather breaks it down and comes in uninvited.
A Hindu extremist youth has killed a Muslim shopkeeper, and the police team transporting him comes under attack by Muslim extremists out for revenge. The SI, played brilliantly by Murali Gopy, decides to take refuge in Ibru’s house while he waits for reinforcements.
The movie revels in exploring how each character responds to this intense turn of events, each driven by their version of faith, sense of justice, and emotional baggage. In a film full of strong performances, Roshan Mathew shines with his portrayal of Ibru, a man with an endearing vulnerability and quiet principles. As a viewer, you keep wishing Ibru was in a different story, one where he can continue to talk jovially with a friend perched on top of a tree or find some measure of peace after the losses he has already suffered. It seems cruel to even bring him in contact with someone like Laiq, played with a hateful intensity by Prithviraj, who wants Ibru to adhere to his version of Islamic faith and hand over the murderer.
Both actors are overshadowed by an acting masterclass by Mamukkoya, a popular yesteryear comedy star who delivers a character so real and complicated that you cannot believe he is fictional. Mamukkoya plays Ibru’s father, Moosa Kadher, a foul-mouthed old man who allegedly sent his wife to an early grave and seems to have a considerably sketchy past. Moosa Khader somehow becomes the north star of morality in the story, but for unlikely reasons. He simply has contempt for the silliness of religious disputes. He is no Gandhian but will only fight for real reasons. Ironically, the elderly Moosa Khader cares the least about religious traditions and ancient history, routinely dismissing the young ones' adherence to them. At one point, he confuses Shah Rukh Khan for a Mughal king and then says dead kings don’t matter to him anyway.
Shine Tom Chacko’s Kareem, a family friend with fundamentalist leanings, and Naslen K Gafoor’s portrayal of Ibru’s confused younger brother Rassol deserve mention for fine acting as well. I was least impressed by Prithviraj. Although he brought a certain menacing presence, he seems too aware that he is a star and does not seem very natural.
The first act of the movie is unrelenting in tension and suspense, but momentum dips in the middle before picking up again for the last act. The movie excels in exploring character dynamics and choices, but in the middle, the director seemed unsure if it should be a character drama or a home invasion thriller. Efforts at becoming the latter are patchy, with a jerky start and stop sequence that keeps repeating. Laiq and Kareem, being Muslim extremists, don’t want to kill everyone in the Muslim house, which makes the whole ‘you only have 4 bullets left’ theme less interesting. It would have been better if the house was left to simmer as everyone decided what to do before Laiq came back.
There is also a tad too much exposition, with multiple characters explaining things at length. The plot and the dilemma faced by the characters was quite clear after the first 45 minutes, making the later explanations unnecessary. We don’t really need to know so much about Laiq’s history. We don’t know much about Moosa Khader’s past, despite the scandalous bits he mentions in passing, but we don’t need to. You know everything you need to know about Moosa when he rips off his urine tube with disdain. One wonders why the director or the writers had less faith in Prithviraj’s Laiq.
But these are minor flaws, and the bold themes, intense acting, and incredible cinematography make the movie a must-watch. Prithviraj and his production house deserve credit for picking such a story at a time when filmmakers across the country are eager to make chest-thumping propaganda films or stay away from controversial themes. Kuruthi seems like a movie made in Kerala but it is meant more for a national audience. While the storyline is not inconceivable in Kerala, it doesn’t come across as something very likely in Kerala’s cultural ethos. Prithviraj is known to be vocal about identity politics and religious polarization. He seems to have invested in a story that is simultaneously a warning to the people of Kerala and a gift to people in other parts of the country who deserve movies that explore such questions.
At the risk of reading too much into the movie, the characters and events seem symbolic. Vishnu, the Hindu extremist, and Laiq, the Muslim extremist are the new and unwelcome entrants in the house, a stand-in for the state of Kerala. Mamukkoya’s Moosa Khader is the old guard who neither knows nor cares about the Mughal history or any religious wars but will put up a fight today in the house built by his father, which is as far as Moosa’s sense of history goes. The battle is for Ibru’s soul and what he chooses, as it is for the new generation in Kerala, and perhaps the country.
Author Biographical Note: Sharath C George is a writer and podcaster based out of Bangalore. His business card says Market Research Director. He blogs at ApatheticIndian.com.
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