On the face of it filmmaker-actor Geetu Mohandas’ sophomore film Moothon (The Elder One) is about the search for the lost elder brother that takes young Mulla all the way from the pristine, idyllic and tranquil home in the islands of Lakshadweep to the chaotic, violent, ruthless and ugly underbelly of Mumbai.
It is also a metaphorical, inner quest to find oneself by facing up to life’s vagaries. As Ms. Mohandas herself put it, in a lively session with the audience at the Scotiabank theatre in downtown Toronto, it is about “the sense of identity and the crises within”.
However, at the heart of Moothon lies an unforeseen, uncommon and extraordinarily tender love story that makes actor Nivin Pauly venture into hitherto uncharted zones. He is on top of things, be it expressing the ecstasy in finding an abundance of love amidst a shoal of fish or resorting to the religious/cultural practice of self flagellation to express the pain of surreptitious, forbidden passion. “I can’t get a hold of myself,” he says, as a visibly broken and tormented Akbar who has nowhere to hide in the islands. The only option is to run away, from home and also from himself.
Ms. Mohandas jostles with interesting ideas — that of a rare fluidity when it comes to matters of both gender and sexuality. “The idea was not to see gender but love,” she said in the audience interaction. For her it wasn’t about titillating or being provocative but pushing the boundaries of cinema, both in terms of the content and aesthetics.
The film marks a unique collaboration of talent from Kerala and Bollywood. It has been co-produced by Anurag Kashyap, Ajay G. Rai of Jar Pictures, Vinod Kumar and Alan McAlex. Besides Mr. Pauly, Dileesh Pothan and Sanjana Dipu, it also stars Sobhita Dhulipala and Shashank Arora. Moothon also speaks in two tongues — the local dialect of the islands and Hindi.
The film left the audience wondering about the ambiguous end, with Ms. Mohandas adding to their curiosity by putting primacy on their own individual interpretation of it than imposing any given “reading”. Shot in Agatti and Bangaram islands it had the Torontonians inquisitive about Lakshadweep itself. Not just when it comes to the beautiful sun, sand and sea, but also the language and culture Ms. Mohandas brings alive.
The film goes on from TIFF to open the Mumbai Film Festival and will be released commercially on November 8.
(The writer is in Toronto at the invitation of TIFF)