Managing to conceal details, revealing it shade by shade at the right time, is a fine art, which Geetu Mohandas achieves commendably in Moothon . More so, because some of this concealment happens in plain sight, almost as a trick on the audience.
Just like in her debut film Liar's Dice , Geethu weaves her story around the search for a family member, although things are more complex and layered here. 10-year old Mulla (Sanjana Dipu) sets out alone in a boat from Lakshadweep, in search of his long lost 'moothon' (elder brother), who is believed to be in Mumbai.
‘Moothon’, the person, in these initial parts is a myth, for Mulla, as well as the audience. The reasons for his brother leaving the island is known to him only through rumours, as to something to do with a broken heart. He has almost forgotten the elder one's face. Even the photographs he have of him are unclear. About his life in Mumbai too, Mulla has heard only rumours. Mulla asks his uncle and current guardian Moosa (Dileesh Pothan) - "Are these stories about him true?". At this point, we are not told about what he has heard.
When the action shifts to Mumbai, specifically to Kamathipura, one gets a sense of deja vu, of settings from many a movie exploring the underbelly of the city. A familiar host of characters, from a ruffian known only as Bhai (Nivin Pauly), to a sex worker, Rosy (Sobhita Dhulipala), make their apperance. But, when one starts to get the feeling of heading down a trodden path, the script springs its series of surprises.
We also head back to Lakshadweep to get a look at the past life of Bhai aka Akbar, which sheds light on his present. These are some of the best parts of the film, which throws up questions on identity and sexual orientation, and on how a conservative society violently clamps down on individuals who attempt to break out of the mould. Amid this plays out an achingly beautiful love story involving the mute Ameer (Roshan Mathew).
It is interesting how some mundane scenes, like Mulla looking through photographs, or another involving the forced application of lipstick on a young boy by a group of guys, shown earlier comes back to you, much later, when you least expect it.
The two plots sometimes makes the movie too unwieldy, but one wonders whether there was another way around it. Nivin Pauly lives up to the challenge, which requires him to shed his boyish charm and push himself physically and emotionally. Matching him with their performances are Roshan Mathew and Sanjana Dipu.
Although it does not play out smoothly all through, Moothon has enough depth in it for us to dive deep, and come back with material to ponder. Geetu Mohandas makes a brave statement with her first film in Malayalam.