moothondirector – geetu mohandascast – nivin pauly, sanjana dipu, shashank arora, sobhita dhulipala, roshan mathew
A scene of ritualistic religious violence unfolds midway through the moothon of Geetu Mohandas, the best Indian film of the year. both the eyes and the mind, ecstatic with rhythmic rage, are too distracted to pay attention to what is really happening. Beneath the crusty surface of this scene, there are signs of a tender romance.
a man named akbar (nivin pauly) performs the muslim ritual of kuthu ratheeb, slicing his body as if in a trance, while grim-looking clerics recite hymns and townspeople gather around. In the crowd, there is a man, Ameer (Roshan Mathew). like akbar, he too seems to be under the spell of something sublime. His eyes meet for a moment, but neither of them say a word. ameer, as we later found out, cannot speak at all. but the scene can, and he does.
watch the moothon trailer here
In many ways, it represents the film: epic yet intimate, raw yet mythical. mouthon, a film that dissects the concept of duality, is a crime drama but also a love story. At first glance, it deserves (and demands) many more, it seems that Moothon was put together from two clearly different films. some might even be caught off guard by its regular tonal changes. others may prefer one story over the other.
but transformation, both physical and emotional, is the central theme of moothon. often these transformations are quite literal. the appearances of a couple of characters change drastically. Akbar, in his role as a mid-level thug in the mumbai underworld, creates a mass armor on his body that didn’t exist when he was a mild-mannered young man. As the film navigates his own identity, it gives Akbar a new one of his own: Bhai. without revealing anything, it is an idea that is reinforced in the unforgettable final shot of the film.
Reuniting with her husband, cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, after her impressive feature debut, Liar’s Says, Mohandas is also taking her film through this transformation. mouthon seems to go through a quick costume change every time she switches from one timeline to another, abandoning the almost fantastical aesthetic of the opening island scenes (a mermaid makes an appearance) in favor of overwhelming desolation in parts of mumbai. the same camera that flew like a bird in the lakshadweep squeezes into the narrow chawls, as she follows the mullah child protagonist to mumbai.
Mulla makes the epic journey alone, determined to find his missing older brother in the unforgiving metropolis. he arrives with nothing but the clothes on his back, surviving storms and seedy child molesters, and is almost immediately sent to an orphanage. Through random, mostly veiled acts of kindness, he ends up in Kamathipura, under the watchful eye of Rosy (Sobhita Dhulipala), the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold.
moothon has an uncommon affection for his characters, even the most unsavory ones, like bhai’s crybaby sidekick salim, played by the ever-excellent shashank arora. the world he occupies can be uncompromisingly austere at times, but because she cares for these people, he offers them moments of respite. it is unlikely that they will be able to escape their fate, no matter how hard they try. moothon is, and I’ve had weeks to think about this, a dark fairy tale.
Malayalam star Nivin Pauly, in the performance of a lifetime, plays the prince. It bothers me greatly when superficial things such as no-makeup looks and nudity are described as ‘bold’ — by both the press and the audiences. To my mind, there can be no bolder performance than this. Pauly discards not only his matinee idol image, but treads into a territory that many would consider taboo. Indeed, his is the most telling transformation of them all.
It’s also yet another reminder, in a year that seems to be full of them, of the great revolution currently taking place in Malayalam cinema. In just a couple of years, we’ve seen movies like Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga, Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikkattu and Madhu C Narayanan’s Kumbalangi Nights. In 2020 alone, we’ve had Anwar Rasheed’s tightrope tonal trance and Muhammad Musthafa’s cryptic Kappela. these are movies that tackle complex ideas of religion and faith, sexuality and gender, politics and crime. they may be contemporary in their craft, but the anxieties they address are ancient.
This second golden age of Malayalam cinema is undoubtedly the most important movement Indian cinema has witnessed since Ram Gopal Varma changed the game in Bollywood some two decades ago. his former cohort, anurag kashyap, co-wrote moothon.
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It’s easily the best new movie on zee5’s list. so perhaps now the streamer can stop using deeply misleading means to promote their own programming, such as attracting paying audiences to the platform by using reviews that are really just ads. so here you go, zee5; a glowing review, free of charge.
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