Big Screen Movies

'Moothon': Finally, a Malayalam film that depicts queer love sensitively and without stereotypes

What sets ‘Moothon’ apart is the way it captures desire and heartbreak.

What sets ‘Moothon’ apart is the way it captures desire and heartbreak.  


The film’s visual trajectory moves from idyllic Lakshadweep to the ugly underbelly of Mumbai

A man stands in front of a mirror, his kohl-rimmed eyes alight with rapture but also brimming over with tears. This is the heart of Geethu Mohandas’ Moothon — a star-crossed romance, tender, forbidden and heartbreakingly beautiful. This is perhaps the first time in mainstream Malayalam cinema history that same-sex love has been portrayed with such warmth and sensitivity.

At the same time, Moothon is not just a film about gay love, but a multilayered narrative with immense thematic depth that explores the queer spectrum with lyrical finesse. The film’s visual trajectory is equally immersive as it moves from idyllic Lakshadweep to the ugly underbelly of Mumbai. The film follows Mulla, a teenager who reaches Kamathipura in search of his mysterious ‘moothon’ (elder brother); and the quest itself becomes a powerful motif defining both characters.

Although Kerala was the first to formulate a policy for transgenders, queer representation in Malayalam cinema has not done justice to the community, often being overtly prejudiced in its portrayals. There have been attempts at queer representation, for instance in the 2004 feature Sancharam and the controversial Ka Bodyscapes (2016), but what sets Moothon apart is the way it captures desire and heartbreak.

Delirious love

The brief yet intense romance in the film makes most heteronormative relationships pale in comparison; the narrative deftly navigates the labyrinth of sexual orientation, gender identity and self-expression. It captures the instant spark, the blossoming romance, and the sexual tension that burns like wildfire when Akbar falls deliriously in love with Amir. Theirs is an affair that grows in the shadow of secrecy and intolerance, and Akbar finds it both euphoric and terrifying.

“Malayalam may have a string of celebrated screen romances, but there isn’t a single film that does justice to same-sex love. What makes Moothon an overwhelming film for us is the journey of Akbar and Amir. They communicate through unsaid words and furtive glances that make sense and speak volumes. Their chemistry is so very organic and realistic, we can easily relate to every moment of their love story,” says Jijo Kuriakose, artist, documentary filmmaker and LGBTQIA+ activist.

Apart from the recent Njan Marykutty, Malayalam cinema has mostly treated the LGBTQIA+ community with casual disrespect, very often resorting to stereotypes. Sexual orientation becomes an uncomfortable or dark secret in films like Ritu and Mumbai Police, and the gay character in Two Countries is loud and flamboyant. Lesbians are aggressive tomboys in Chunkzz and Achayans, their identity presented mostly as an aberration.

The film follows Mulla, a teenager who reaches Kamathipura in search of his mysterious ‘moothon’ (elder brother).

The film follows Mulla, a teenager who reaches Kamathipura in search of his mysterious ‘moothon’ (elder brother).  

And despite the empathy and sensitivity with which poet-author Kamala Das treated LGBTQIA+ characters, the biopic Aami chooses a grossly clichéd representation of the gay lover. Effeminate men and transpersons are there just for comic relief and as people who tread the criminal world only because of their alternative sexuality.

Moothon, on the other hand, has characters who are startlingly real and full of life. Mulla is depicted as gender-fluid, and the love story of Akbar and Amir is told with a simmering sensuality that at no point becomes absurd. Latheef, despite the limited screen space, has a strikingly real persona as a transperson nursing deep wounds. The film is a brilliant blend of clarity and allusion. Visual hints, including surreal ones, add layers and meanings.

Their struggle

“Be it in Malayalam literature or cinema, queer characters have been invisible and we hardly have an oeuvre that documents their struggle. We have always had a delicacy about accepting anything unconventional, so gender stereotypes and insensitive caricatures easily made it to the screen,” says author K.R. Meera.

Moothon is more engaging and politically aware than other recent queer offerings such as Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, which is more about the rites of coming out. The Bollywood film fails to communicate passion in the way Moothon does effortlessly and without melodrama. It’s not a poetic take like Call Me By Your Name, nor does it have the lightness of And Then We Danced; it is more a dark tale strewn with poetic and profound moments.

Be it in the conservative island or the seediest part of the urban jungle, Akbar’s solitude remains, making the film intensely personal and political at the same time. “Cinema is basically a personal expression and I have observed the plight of the queer community very closely. Politics is something inherent and it just flows into your script. Your reading, social exposure and mental conditioning, all contribute to it,” says Mohandas. “A film that insults and mocks the LGBTQIA+ community reveals the perspective and sensibility of the filmmaker, and we need to break the social conditioning. Moothon definitely is an attempt to disturb the comfortable.”

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2019 3:37:34 AM |

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