'Kuruthi': A Troubling Tale of Our Times From a Majoritarian Gaze
Why the Malayalam film 'Kuruthi' though problematic holds a mirror to our times.
Kuruthi, directed by Manu Warrier and written by Anish Pallyal, is a masterpiece of storytelling and visual narration. The film begins with an unrevealed fate of a sacrificial lamb as the title suggests but is followed by the death of the protagonist's wife and daughter due to a natural calamity. The protagonist, a religious man, tries to understand the purpose of his faith and the death of his family. He sets aside his doubts only in hopes that there is a heaven where he can meet his daughter someday. The rest of the film is the protagonist's test of faith for the second time when a series of events unfurl exactly on the first anniversary of the death of his wife and daughter.
Kuruthi is also a great example of how much a tightly written script adds to its impact. Every person, element, and object is carefully and meticulously written in. All the characters have their clear purpose and intent, not one character in the film can be tagged as an extra. The animals, the forest, the unseen snake, the vehicles, the cell phones, the number of bullets in the gun, all have their purpose and that makes watching Kuruthi all the more exciting. There is no over-the-top actions sequence, yet every fight is choreographed intentionally to show the raw, ugly side of human nature.
We live in a time where abstract concepts like right vs wrong, faith vs bigotry are all shown as complete absolutes and binaries. Kuruthi takes us to the uncomfortable spaces between these abstracts showing us the blurs, colours, and stories behind them. It talks about how anti-social elements prey on individual suffering and use it for their own agenda of hate. Moosa, the father of Ibrahim, simplifies it all down on how the world is fuelled by hate and how religion, faith, and everything else is just a means to justify the end. He references the story of the origin of the first sin, the murder of Abel by his own brother Cain and how we, the children of Cain, carry this thirst for blood forward.
Warrier has made excellent use of the small cast to convey how different age groups view religion, hatred and how it affects them. Moosa the oldest doesn't have the time or the want to see the grander scheme of things. He doesn't give too much importance to the pride and slaughter of dead kings and their history. As an old man who is closer to death, he focuses on the present and his life that is coming to an end.
Ibrahim's brother, Rasool is young and filled with unresolved rage that falls as a weapon into the wrong hands. Vishnu played by Sagar Surya, is a young convict who seems to have been fed all the hate and bigotry that comes out on social media and WhatsApp forwards. This leads him down a path of crime and is being hunted by the antagonist Laiq played by Prithviraj Sukumaran. Laiq almost becomes the metaphor of Satan testing Jesus during his 40-day-fast in the desert. The only difference being that Ibrahim's test of faith happens in a single night. Ibrahim is the only character in the script that is filled with doubts and uncertainty.
Kuruthi offers two different answers and perspectives to people who are in doubt of their faith. Through the words of Laiq, these doubts make us a slave to this world but the preacher at the mosque views doubts as a part of the faith and a sign of a true believer. Srinda Arhaan plays the role of Sumathi, the next-door girl who falls in love with a widower from a different religion, and Preman played by Manikandan Achari, her alcoholic brother, gives more depth and purpose behind the protagonist's decisions as the plot thickens.
There is a lot of powerful imagery in the scenes in Kuruthi. A bloody hand and a gun on top of a religious book, yet the scene calls for peace and law to take their course. The death of a single character in the wide frame of the night in a jungle that is lit by the night sky speaks volumes in metaphors and words. Yet, the most powerful message of the film comes to us after the end. It shows how hate is carried forward. How hate is almost like a ghost that follows and haunts people, gets passed down, and leaves ugly consequences to everyone around. Kuruthi, with all its complexities, is an attempt to show hate in its complete nakedness, undressing the clothes of bigotry and religion that it loves to wear.
Yet, Kuruthi falls short in it its underlying politics and representation of minority communities. The overused caricature of the misguided Muslim youth from Kerala seems to be normalised in popular media through fils like these and TV shows like The Family Man. They add to the mainstream narrative of demonising Muslims through association with onscreen violence. Even Moosa's character is portrayed as a man with a violent past as a smuggler. Even as the film suggests, there are real life consequences to such portrayal in our cinema and media. Kuruthi has an overall majoritarian gaze that is backed up with well-established stereotypes of the Muslim community and raises more questions than the ones it tries to answer.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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