Kaathal - The Core is a soulfully crafted film that knows where to stop. So, long after the film ends, it leaves you ruminating over several things. It is probably why even if you are on your second or third watch, you may still find a different meaning or something new about the characters in its world. While the unspoken chemistry between Mammootty and Jyotika (who play husband and wife, Mathew and Omana) holds Kaathal together, another chemistry that massively contributes to the film’s success is the one between the writers, Adarsh Sukumaran and Paulson Skaria.
A story that started as a wild thought about two thugs who are in a relationship slowly evolved into a tale about a family, where a middle-aged couple is on the brink of a divorce, says Paulson. “Neither the divorce angle nor the aspect of a homosexual man struggling to come out was in the initial idea. It was a gradual process, and everything fell into place,” adds Adarsh.
It was destiny that brought the script of Kaathal to Jeo Baby. “It (Kaathal) has to culminate in a divorce. Jeo Baby was one of our first choices but he had only made movies based on his own screenplays previously, so we were a little hesitant. But even after we narrated it to a few other directors, we still came back to him and things worked out,” the writers recall. In this interview, they fill us in on poignant silences and pauses in the film.
Edited excerpts below.
How did Mammootty come on board?
At the writing stage, we didn’t have an idea as to who would play Mathew. When Jeo Baby came on board, his first choice was Mammootty. We narrated the story to him and Mammootty sir asked Jeo Chetan why we chose him. Jeo Chetan sent a voice note saying that if not for him, no one would be apt to play this role. And that’s how Mammootty sir joined us.
Did you make any changes to the script after Mammootty was cast?
It was actually a very collaborative process where both Mammootty sir and Jeo Chetan supported us at each stage and gave creative inputs for the characters. He (Mammootty) gave so many progressive suggestions, that we were amazed. He was way ahead of our thought process. But we do not want to reveal his suggestions now. We would like to do it at a later stage as the film is running in theatres currently.
Tell us about the research that went behind the film to ensure the story was told sensitively.
We did detailed research, which included watching many films, reading books and meeting people from the queer community. A lot of them said that coming out was not an easy task. There are also people from various associations who help and support those who are trying to come out. We show that in a scene where a person from such an association tells Mathew that they can help him. That’s one scene we had in our minds right from the onset. A lot of the points you see in the courtroom scene are also those that we came across during our research. We wanted to ensure that there wouldn’t be any line or scene that would hurt people in any way. It was the most important thing for us. Even our director Jeo Baby was particular about it. That’s the one line we had drawn while working on the screenplay.
Is this also why the film is devoid of a stereotypical depiction of trauma, which often starts with mockery and protests against the queer community?
We always wanted to downplay this element in the screenplay and focus on the family aspect of the story; we wanted to portray what happens inside a family. How the outside world reacts to this issue is pretty usual and cliched at this point. We’ve seen the reaction, teasing and how people make fun. That can go endlessly and enter a cliched territory.
But doesn't that also make the world look very idealistic?
It’s not an idealistic society. For instance, in the scene where Thankan (Mathew’s lover) and his nephew, Kuttayi are outside on the bike, there is someone making fun of them. But we didn’t want to explore that facet to great lengths. This way, we think it’s more acceptable for family audiences and even the most conventional person can watch this and have a takeaway.
Speaking of Kuttayi, what was the intention behind letting him stay with his uncle Thankan and explore the whole stepfather angle?
Thankan has been alone since the beginning, and we added that character for an extra layer of drama. In a way, the movie was meant to map the lives of three generations including Mathew, his father and Kuttayi. We aren’t showing it as an idealistic society because you can see Kuttayi complain that people are making fun of their situation; it is a representation of that dilemma. But even Kuttayi is ready to accept the truth towards the end.
Most sequences, including the conversations between Omana and her daughter, are explained in fewer words. Why did you want to keep the treatment subtle?
That’s the answer. We wanted to keep the purity intact. There is this beauty in not showing certain things. The whole film is subtle and we worked majorly on the little pauses and silences between conversations. A single look in the film can convey so much. For instance, there is this confrontation between Mathew and Omana, where the former asks why she filed the petition. From the beginning of the scene, where he keeps the jug on the table with force, every emotion plays out mostly through silence.
There are only cordial conversations between them. Mathew is already regretful and Omana was forced into this marriage as well. Even though she falls in love with Mathew, the feelings are not reciprocated. So, Omana is like a scapegoat for his own issues. Both of them are like scapegoats in this system. So, their compassion and companionship are very different. Mathew can’t argue with Omana that much, and their dynamics is very evident in a couple of scenes towards the end.
Mathew's father could have easily come across as a despicable person, but the writing shows a beautiful relationship between Omana and Mathew’s father. How did you approach this?
It’s entirely based on the particular predicament that these are going through. We just had to write from every person’s perspective as nobody was guilty of anything in the first place. For instance, even though Mathew’s father is an active politician, he couldn’t accept his son’s identity. So, it’s the system’s stereotypes and pressures that conditioned them to think in a particular way. The thought process of the system is the culprit. They’re all innocent beings and this is depicted in the procession process, where the three of them stand together.
When you set out to tell this story, why did you want it to be about a couple who had already lived 20 years together?
Initially, it was about a couple in their 60s. But we changed it to make it more interesting. The 20-year companionship is an undefinable term. It is a kind of platonic relationship that can’t be defined. There is something shared between Mathew and Omana, and the audiences also get connected with that emotion.
We don’t see Mathew and Thankan together at all, but it still feels like we know them at the end of the film. Tell me how you wrote their relationship.
A lot of points aren’t there in the final script. But we had an idea as to how these two were connected. For example, we even showed a photograph from their school days to show they share a past. But we made a decision not to show any intimate scenes. It’s purely for the acceptance of the family audience and for the film to reach a wider audience. By hitting it in the face, we can tell something, but it may not reach many people. It’s very subtle but we’ve hinted at their past; like we can feel how deep their relationship was. It is evident also in scenes like the courtroom where Jyotika is asked if she has seen them together.
Why didn’t you want to end the film with their divorce? What made you want to establish their cordial relationship?
That was always the plan. Divorce can actually be a very healthy process. This is also the way our director Jeo Baby views the process of divorce. We were also aligned to that vision, so it made sense to end it that way. What happens after this in their life is left for the audience to imagine. Anyway, their lives will be much better than how it used to be.