EXCLUSIVE: The queer community in Kerala opens up about ‘Kaathal-The Core’

The queer people seem to be divided over the Mammootty-starrer. While a few welcomed it, some found it queerphobic.

ByArjun Ramachandran

Published Dec 23, 2023 | 9:30 AMUpdatedDec 25, 2023 | 10:14 AM

jyothika mammootty kaathal-the core queer story

Even as Mammootty’s Kaathal-The Core is gearing up for an OTT release, the Malayalam movie is still running successfully in 60 theatres across Kerala.

Though it was appreciated well for showcasing the issues of the queer community, not all community members seem to be happy with the movie.

In an exclusive chat with South First, the queer community in Kerala shared their candid opinions about the Mammootty-starrer.

Anagh, who appeared in the movie as a representative of an NGO working for queer people, considers Kaathal-The Core a positive step towards enlightening society about queer issues. As a queer person, he says the movie is a welcome change in an industry where Chanthupottu (2005) was released.

Anagh recalls that he was teased by his friends in the fifth standard after the release of Chanthupottu so much that he thought of quitting his school. “After watching the movie, I felt that it was my fault to be a queer person.”

Related: A recap of the forgotten Malayalam films based on the LGBTQIA+ community

Kaathal showed that being queer isn’t a crime’

jyothika mammootty kaathal

Jyothika and Mammootty in a still from ‘Kaathal-The Core’. (MKampanyOffl/X)

According to Anagh, Kaathal cleared the notions created by Chanthupottu and also showcased that being queer is not a crime.

But Anagh notes that there is a tendency to suppress criticism.

“If someone doesn’t like a film, they are tagged as a person who doesn’t have a progressive outlook. However, the makers of Kaathal-The Core have the maturity to accept criticism as is. They announced that the criticism from queer people will be taken and they are doing so,” he said.

Anagh added, “As a queer person, I am fighting to get the community members the rights guaranteed to all citizens by our Constitution.”

He also cites the example of Moothon (2019), which had intimate scenes and portrayed how queer people express their love to others.

Related: ‘Kaathal-The Core’ is a quality movie on a relevant topic

‘Mammootty’s stardom helped’

Kaathal-The Core poster

Director Jeo Baby’s ‘Kaathal-The Core’ is a queer story. (X)

Had Mammootty not acted in the movie, Kaathal would not have gotten wide acceptance from the audience, Anagh observed. He felt that Mammootty’s stardom helped the film grab the attention of the viewers.

He opined that Kaathal is just an artwork for Mammootty who portrayed the role of a gay man in the movie and also bankrolled it.

“I think only director Jeo Baby understands the politics of the issue and not the writers. While we are fighting for existence, the movie is getting more recognition. I’m not sure if this will be discussed after a month. Moreover, the crucial question here is if Kaathal can bring about a change in society. So, more discussions need to happen around the film,” Anagh said.

As a  rights activist, he points out that the Malayalam film represented queer people in the right way and is not queerphobic as is being criticised.

He added, “After watching the film, the community members told me that it was our story. Recently, a friend told me that he would soon become another Mathew Devassy (Mammootty’s character in Kaathal) as he is getting married and can’t reveal his identity to his partner for obvious reasons.”

Related: Cisgender actors play transgender persons as if it is an acting challenge, says Neeraj Churi

‘Kaathal is queerphobic’

mammootty as gay man in kaathal-the core

Mammootty appeared as a gay man in ‘Kaathal-The Core’. (MKampanyOffl/X)

Ponnu Ima, a non-binary person and an activist, reveals that they couldn’t sit throughout to watch Kaathal and had to leave midway.

“I was getting triggered throughout the movie. I left the theatre while watching a courtroom scene. I was triggered by the craft of the movie, which was more focused on making a queer person ‘come out’,” they told South First.

Ponnu Ima added, “In doing so, Kaathal-The Core took a violent stance towards queer people who are closeted. And talking of this trigger factor is being stopped short, given that it mostly affects closeted queer people.”

The makers of Kaathal depicted that queer people should come out so people around them can help them through the process.

They explained, “Contrary to what was shown in the movie, coming out would not always enable a queer person to lead a good life. Some people have even died going through the process of coming out. But when closeted persons watch the film, it gives them a feeling that not coming out equals betraying others.”

Ponnu Ima pointed out that as per the movie, queer people who remain closeted betray heterosexual women, which is not the reality. “It is also to be noted that the film speaks nothing of the responsibility of society in making a queer person remain closeted.”

They added, “A closeted queer friend of mine was worried that the people who know of their identity, under the influence of Kaathal, may attempt to ‘help out’ by outing them as against their wishes. I would say this film is queerphobic as it attacks the closeted queer people who don’t/can’t come out.”

Also Read: Sushmita Sen nails it to near perfection as a transgender activist in ‘Taali’

‘Not a queer cinema’

Kaathal-The Core is a huge success

Sudhi Kozhikode as Thankan in ‘Kaathal-The Core’. (X)

Ponnu Ima raised these concerns with director Jeo Baby during the “Meet the Director” session at the IFFK, but he said they were open to criticism.

They said Jeo Baby was tagged as a person who makes progressive cinema and carries responsibilities, too.

“I told the director that he attacked a group of closeted queer people. This movie, based on the point of view of a heterosexual woman, cannot be called a queer cinema which is how it is being marketed now,” Ponnu Ima asserted.

They added, “There is no need for sympathy. We are human beings too. In 2004-released Sancharam spoke about lesbian relationships. In this fuzz about Kaathal, ideally, there should be talks about that movie too, but that’s not happening.”

Ponnu Ima observed that Jeo Baby felt offended when they raised these issues.

“My friend Anagh played a role in Kaathal, and I am happy he became part of a successful movie. But I must disagree with how his character — someone working for an NGO — was placed. I work for an NGO too. From my experience, NGOs should be working in a way that helps closeted queer people to live the way the individual desires. We don’t ask anyone to come out,” Ponnu Ima signed off.

Related: The portrayal of LGBTQIA+ community in Tamil cinema