Director: Manu Warrier
Cast: Prithviraj, Murali Gopy, Roshan Mathew, Shine Tom Chacko, Mamukkoya, Srindha
Ever since Jordan Peele made the acclaimed Get Out three years ago, the genre film has grown to become more than what it was once intended to be. Within the confines of horror (also US) or a survival thriller (Bird Box), we get elaborate subversions that deal with complex issues like racism and mental health. In Malayalam, though, it is the home invasion thriller that has evolved to include commentary on larger social issues through its characters. So if Amal Neerad's Varathan addressed voyeurism and moral policing, Kala used the genre to ask us whose home is being invaded by whom, while bringing in conflicts of class, caste and colour. In Manu Warrier's thrilling Kuruthi, the genre is stretched to accommodate a complex study of religious divisiveness and hatred and what it can do to fracture the peace of two harmonious families living in isolation.
Isolation, because everyone from around Ibru (Roshan Mathew) and Suma's (Srindha) houses have moved away following a landslide. The damage has brought these families closer because Ibru lost both his wife and daughter while Suma's brother Preman lost his wife. Their village itself is then further cut off from the outer world because an important bridge has been damaged. But this idyllic picture of Hindu-Muslim unity isn't as utopian as we imagine.
The seeds of communalism have begun to sprout here too even though they live right in the middle of a forest. The youngsters of both communities have been getting brainwashed either through their seniors or the WhatsApp academy. Rasool (Naslem), Ibru's younger brother, goes to bed after reading propaganda but he hasn't the time to wake up to attend the early morning prayer. It's much the same for a character named Vishnu, around the same age as Rasool. Equally stubborn in his views and mindset, both Vishnu and Rasool are basically the same person born in different religious backgrounds. Yet religion, to them, is simply a structure that differentiates the 'us' between the 'them'. The rights and the wrongs become incidental based on what the community demands at a point in time. As a result, even God is incidental to them.
There is a need to emphasise on these two characters because that's the point the film's trying to make. It isn't about the generation right before or that of their fathers'. Despite the pleasures of the genre, the parts of Kuruthi that become most haunting is when we listen to Vishnu and Rasool argue with each other, even when their lives are ostensibly in danger. One complains about reservations and his lack of privilege despite belonging to a majority. The other cannot see beyond the violence that's been perpetrated against his community. Through the film, where compassion is constantly in conflict with religious duty, you get a sense that these characters are learning nothing, as though they've been conditioned so well that no life lesson can change them.
It is this aspect of Kuruthi that makes it more than a home invasion thriller. A large reason for this is the excellent setup. In what takes almost an hour of the film, we get everyday dialogues that never feel like exposition. Little details like a broken window, a bee hive and the ability of a character to climb trees returns out of nowhere to deliver stellar blows. Casual conversation about a shopkeeper's son, a motorbike and even Ibru's navigational skills are cleverly inserted into our subconscious. We see a car chase and we also get a broken Checkov's Gun. So when we realise how these dots were laid, only to be connected later on we also realise what the screenwriters have managed to achieve with so many emotional payoffs.
The build up is terrific and so are the ways in which the film sets up the rules of the game. There is no place to run, no place to hide. Who you can trust or shouldn't keeps changing too, giving the film the feeling of a post-apocalyptic drama. At its core the film also reminded me of Jayaraj's Santham, a film about the aftereffects of two best friends at war, fighting for opposing political forces, seen through the eyes of their mothers. Even when Kuruthi transitions into an action movie centred around a chase, the foundation has been laid for more than genre pleasures.
But the urgency with which we approach the earlier portions does begin to feel diluted soon. Even the organic segues between intense action blocks and fiery arguments about deeper topics, don't feel as organic after a couple of repetitions. Another aspect that further hampered the film's intensity was the recurring use of moments when it appears that a person is just a second away from being killed. With several scenes of a character either being held at gunpoint or with a knife to throats, these threats stop working after a while.
Apart from Abhinandan Ramanujam's (Amen, Double Barrel) excellent cinematography, the film's other highlight is Mamukkoya's performance. He diffuses the film's highbrow ambitions with his humour and he easily gets the film's best lines (name another movie where a diaper appears before a car chase). Although the film loses the clarity it approaches Ibru's spiritual quest with, we still get a film that mostly delivers both as a genre movie as well as a social commentary. If there ever was an entertaining way of mixing the body of John Wick with the soul of Martin Scorcese's Silence, Kuruthi would be a good prototype.