Monday, November 14, 2022

Kooman- Escaping Controversy, Jeethu Joseph Way...

Kooman is a good thriller from Drishyam director Jeethu Joseph about a case of serial killing. In Malayalam movies presently serial killing is in vogue. Many recent movies like Paappan, Salute, Anjam Pathira, Antakshari and John Luther deals with serial killing and the effort of Police to nab the culprit. Historically we had Mukham and Ee Thanutha Veluppan Kalathu in nineties. But these didn't perform well. The present trend has its origin in movies like Grand Master and Jeethu Joseph's own Memories. 

Serial killers make compelling cinema. Their intentions to kill, makes for some interesting psychological histrionics on screen. Some gore and a heavy dose of suspense can make even a below average plot and narration more interesting. (Spoilers ahead.) But Kooman makes an interesting case, because in it, the serial killing angle is introduced only after halfway of the movie, though many hints are provided in first half. First half is totally invested to clearly portray the protagonist-  his unique character and his flaws. 

A flawed protagonist is a very overused trope in investigation movies. Jeethu Joseph's Memories also has such a protagonist. But Kooman uses this trope largely to its advantage. It's protagonist heavily flawed and to such an extent that, he is evidently a second villain, only to a much more ruthless, vile and mentally deformed antagonist. This leads to a very interesting chemistry between it's protagonist and antagonist, and this parallel makes Kooman miles apart from other movies of it's kind. 

I can think of the Korean movie I Saw The Devil as a similar one, but even that one had a justification for its protagonist. Kooman doesn't give such a relief to the viewers and goes on to make Giri, it's hero, very vile and totally unlikable. I felt it as a welcome and interesting take. 

Jeethu Joseph is very fortunate that at the time of the release of the movie, a similar incident was making sensational news in Kerala. The movie deals with human sacrifice, which is a hot topic in Kerala now due to a case of some people actually indulging in it. This made Kooman more relatable and convincing to the audience. 

The topic of human sacrifice made me study the way it is presented in the movie. Obviously ritual human sacrifice is a religious thing. With the politically charged and divisive situation of today, what stand was made about the religious and cultist aspects of it in the movie... I think it is an interesting topic to analyse. 

When I watched the movie, what interested me was the way in which the religious aspects were dealt without resorting to any propaganda, which is a rarity when today's Malayalam movies are concerned. I am not against propaganda. Any movie maker knowingly or unknowingly allows to permeate their views and biases into their products. A knowing permeation of an idea into a movie or any art for that matter is for me, a propaganda. 

We can take the example of The Great Indian Kitchen, where a movie about women empowerment ended up referring Sabarimala conflict, indicating that pilgrimage to Sabarimala is of part of patriarchy. Or that of Meppadiyan where ambulances of Seva Bharati were prominently shown to indicate that the elements of Hindutva is normalised in our society. I am not judging these movies. I am just pointing out the presence of propaganda in Malayalam cinema.

Human sacrifice was a practice prevalent all over the world in many aboriginal cultures, in different methods. In India, some sub-sects of Hinduism used to practice it. So when shown in an Indian religious context, there is obviously going to be a Hindu element to it. Now, it's interesting to see how Jeethu Joseph expertly balances and makes something which doesn't offend anybody, avoid anyone accusing him of mixing propaganda to his subject and taking a stand of not taking a stand. 

He includes a long monologue by a main priest who insist human sacrifice is not taught in any Tantric tradition and it is a foreign concept which crept into India from Tibet. (Gave me some Yoddha vibes.) He indicates it is practiced by tribals deep inside a jungle in Kerala- Tamil Nadu border and this village is no more as it is destroyed decades ago in an avalanche. He asserts that the current person who is practicing it is a deranged, mentally disturbed and antisocial psychopath. By just this one scene Jeethu establishes that human sacrifice is not Tantric, it is foreign, it's practitioners are no more alive and it is presently done by a psychopath. 

It is also interesting to see how the matter of caste is alluded throughout in the movie. Of course, it will be controversial to point out one particular caste in the movie, which Jeethu doesn't need. If we see other 'propagandist' movies of Malayalam, caste of a good or bad character is worn prominently on the sleeves so as not to have any confusion to the audience. It is needed for these movies, to make their point clear to us. But Jeethu needs to just entertain us. 

So he makes it clear when it is mentioned in the movie that the people who are dead are all upper caste and a particular community. This is a smart move. If this was substituted by the mention of a lower caste, definitely Jeethu would be accused of bigotry. He would be accused of making a casteist movie and demonising lower caste members. Upper caste is sufficiently demonised already, that it is even okay to mention them in connection to human sacrifice. 

But here also the director uses enough intelligence to avoid controversy. It is never mentioned exactly which upper caste these people belong to. It is evident from the visuals of their houses, dressing or even rituals that they does not belong to any upper caste that inhabit Kerala. So no one will be able to relate to these and get offended at the director. 

To the credit of Jeethu, none of this prevents to entertain the casual movie goer. They get a treat with some great story telling, some thrilling and suspenseful moments, great acting (Jaffer Idukey was just great) and a pretty convincing closure. Jeethu knows that when a propaganda movie gets controversial, it get support from some parties, but when a non-propaganda movie stirs any controversy, it is made to fight by itself. 

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