Megastar Mammoottyneeds no introduction. With several blockbuster films to his credit, he is considered one of the most successful actors working in the Malayalam-language film industry in India.
The 72-year-old megastar is currently in the news for making what could be called his boldest choice as an actor. In his new film Kaathal – The Core, Mammootty plays the character of a closeted gay man stuck in a heterosexual marriage. Not only the megastar has portrayed the lead character of Mathew Devassy with panache, but he has also bankrolled the project under his banner.
Kaathal, directed by Jeo Baby, who previously made The Great Indian Kitchen, follows a middle-aged man coming out of the closet and embracing his gay identity. On one hand, he is getting ready to run in an election in his town, and on the other, his wife Omana, played by Jyothika, wants to divorce him because she thinks he is gay.
“I wanted to make a film about how LGBTQ people live with us and how they fit into our families,” Baby told the BBC.
He added that Mammootty readily agreed to produce the film. “He quickly understood the movie and was ready to take on the role,” he said.
The reviews for the film have been positive, but anti-LGBT groups in the state have asked people to boycott the film and criticise the actor for his part.
Gay activist Vyas, 35, who has been out for a decade, said the film has come at a time when the queer community in Kerala is being subjected to extreme harassment, particularly on social media.
“Many of us who are out have had our numbers leaked on social media. I keep receiving calls mocking me and even issuing death threats. When we organised the Pride march in Malappuram this October, there was a lot of opposition to it,” he said.
A large section of society still believes in pseudoscience and misinformation about the queer community, said Vyas. “Using slurs against queer individuals and targeting them is so normalised here. The police are very slow to act on complaints,” he added.
Considering the widely prevalent homophobia, Vyas isn’t surprised that Kaathal doesn’t show the two men in intimate scenes. “I feel that if the film had had such a scene, many would have stayed out of the theatre,” he said. “Mammootty was able to articulate the helplessness of a gay individual very well on screen.”