Kala - Movie Review (Malayalam)
Tovino Thomas is one of the most charming popular 'heroes' in the Malayalam film industry having played many a winning-roles in blockbuster movies (That reminds me, can't wait for his superhero movie, "Minnal-Murali" to be released). But keeping in with the modern times and the amazing revival that this movie industry is going through, he has also turned experimental. To the extent of putting his skin in the game, by backing and producing this new movie called Kala - that released in theaters a couple of months back and is now on Prime Video.
Kala is a reference to the weeds, the unwanted plants in our gardens. It also means "to remove or weed out the unwanted" While I am still puzzling out the significance of the title with respect to the movie, but it possibly could be referring to the intriguing message about weeding out negativities like ego, toxic masculinity, vanity etc.
Let me get this out of the way first. Kala is an audio-visual spectacle.
A grand statement on celluloid about violence and the meaninglessness of the same. Tovino ventures where only a few have dared, breaking that mold of a 'hero' - from when he is presented in the first frame as the macho-man with the chiseled torso, broad shoulders and brawny biceps - to his transformation by the end of the movie. That haunting last frame will remain with me for a long time. Hunched shoulders, shivering and huddled in the corner like a hunted animal, smoking a cigarette like its his last. By the end of the movie, the message that gets delivered is intriguing yes but cluttered. For a movie touted as a first "Feel-Bad" movie, Kala definitely lives up to that tag. I was disturbed yes, but I was also left reliving this experience about But the experimental nature of it, the manic manic energy, the unsettling darkness, the seething, raw physicality of the violence; all of this underpinned by some brilliant camera-angles and the edgy smart editing, with incisive background scores had me completely bedazzled.
The story is about Shaji, a young man living in his father's house with his loving wife Vidya, his son Appoos, their dog Blackie and of course, the father (Played by Lal). He's a loving father, a caring husband and an obedient son. A strong man, clearly in love with himself, he spends a lot of time on carefully building up that look. Every single muscle tautly defined, not a single hair out of place. A vain man, who believes that one has to fight for the things he truly deserves. This is a lesson he lives by and pass on to his son ( right in the first scene where he cheekily dredges up the last of the horlicks from his son's cup and tells him to fight for it, when the boy whines.) But in the matters of money or other worldly affairs, he isn't that discerning yet. We glean that he's had some major failures in his past business ventures ( namely, he tried his hands at farming by buying land on the borderlands between Kerala/TamilNadu ) and he owes his relatives/in-laws a bit of money.
Now, one cloudy afternoon, when both his father and his wife/son have moved out of the house, Shaji mobilizes a bunch of tree-climbers to harvest the arecanut trees in his father's lands. This is the guise for him to steal a few gunny-bags of the highly-priced pepper lying in his father's warehouse and then put the blame on these 'outsiders.' And use that money to perhaps settle the debts.
But plans derail as this young man(Unnamed, played by Sumesh Moor), in the guise of a tree-climber, is actually somebody that Shaji had wronged grievously in the past. Drunk and frustrated at the loss of his business due to the marauding pigs from the neighbouring woods, Shaji had once carelessly thrown a local ly made explosive leading to this young man's beloved dog's death. And he was finally here, to take revenge as he declares that before the end of this day, he would kill Shaji's dog as payback.
What ensues is a brutal, raw and intense tussle between these two unevenly matched combatants. Shaji, tall and well built, the very epitome of masculinity while Moor's character is a scrawny young man, all gangly legs but spry, agile and most importantly, furious. There were times when his feral laughter, eyes shining and blood-flecked teeth bared in a snarl, sent shivers down my back. But this isn't a good versus bad fight. As we soon realise, the layers around the confident, family man that Shaji first conveys to the audience, start to unravel. The swagger is gone and his actions are furtive, stolen anxious glances soon give away to startled fear as Shaji realises the boy isn't fooling around.
The fights are choreographed to reflect the intense physicality, the desperation. We feel both the men's fear and their mad feral urge to complete what is started. Sometimes it does get a bit too much but then the camera cuts away. There is a shot of the chase scene, captured cleverly from inside a snake's hole, from between the eggs. And it feels exactly as it was intended. Cold, clammy, claustrophobic. The weapons used in the fight are also crude, but effective and equally dangerous. Imagine, a bunch of arecanuts, a huge arm of cactus, broken pots, anything that comes to hand actually. There are interludes to this protracted second half as the men battle each other for life. Brief scenes that again gives us insights into what makes up each of their characters. It isn't pretty and we now know better than to back the 'hero'.
As far as performances go, Tovino has given his sweat, blood and tears for this role. And it's such a bold gamble that you cannot help admire his intensity. It's definitely a milestone for the young man in his quest to push boundaries and experiment. Sumesh Moor was fantastic in his portrayal of the hurt angry young man. Lal, Divya Pillai also lend able support to these two.
Was there a storyline to this? Was there a point to that crazy bloody showdown? Was the message about weeding out that toxic masculinity inside of us? About that wildness inside us, beneath the thin veneer of civilisation that we pretend to hide under. Or is it a story of the oppressed against the privileged, who abuse that notion time and again?
I will leave that to the viewer. But what it is, is surely a classic milestone in Malayalam movie making. A cult made in the style of Hollywood Westerns. The stylishly violent ballet that plays out between these two animals lost in their absolute bestiality that has taken over everything else, even as their impending doom is sounded out in the shrill cries of nature all around them. And as this plays out on the screen, we as viewers realise this - That morality or that thing we call humanity, is but just a smudged grey footnote amidst all this. ( Remember Jallikattu!) Love it or hate it, this movie is surely going to leave an impact on you.