The Catholic Church is a palpable presence in Indian filmmaker Don Palathara’s “Family,” which has its world premiere in the Harbour strand of Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam.

Set in and shot on location in the Idukki district of Kerala, southern India, where Palathara grew up, the Malayalam-language film revolves around Sony (Vinay Forrt), a devout Christian, community do-gooder and general all-round well-liked person, but something uneasy lurks beneath the surface. The film’s cast also includes Divya Prabha (2022 festival favorite “Declaration”).

Christianity played a prominent part in Palathara’s debut feature “Shavam” (2015) and in his sophomore film “Vith” (2017). After tackling diverse subjects and filmmaking techniques in his subsequent features “1956, Central Travancore” (2019), “Joyful Mystery” (2021) and “Everything Is Cinema” (2021), Palathara returns to the subject with “Family.”

“I grew up in a Catholic family in a village where rules were pretty rigid for us. As an adult, I have been forced to face certain realities from my past recently, and those thoughts led to looking at several people I knew in a different light,” Palathara told Variety. “The Church was always the elephant in the room. As a child, I felt under the constant surveillance of the Church and the Christian God itself. That forced one to keep all the actions and words under introspection constantly.”

However, the focus of the film is not the Church. Instead it’s about certain aspects of character in the close-knit Christian community that cannot be discussed without spoilers.

The decision to cast Forrt, who has generally played genial characters in several successful Malayalam-language films, including “Premam,” “Thamasha” and “Malik,” was a deliberate one. “I have always noticed Vinay Forrt for the kind of films and filmmakers he has associated with. When I completed the script for ‘Family,’ Vinay, with his unique taste in films and willingness to experiment, was my first choice. Vinay’s physical appearance corroborated that of the character I had envisioned. Also Vinay’s public image as a guy next door made him the first choice for this particular character,” Palathara said.

Forrt told Variety: “Unlike most of the characters you are offered in commercial Malayalam films, this character had a lot of gray shades. Sony doesn’t embody a stereotypical depiction of someone, but is an honest manifestation of a man with gray shades. There is always a contrast between the image one wants to project to the public and his real self. This distinction was made very clear in the script of ‘Family,’ which impressed me. It is one of those films in which I really enjoyed working in.”

“Family” is Palathara’s second Rotterdam selection after “Everything Is Cinema” made the cut in 2021. “IFFR’s continuing support means a lot to me. I couldn’t be there at Rotterdam physically for ‘Everything Is Cinema’ as it was still during a partial lockdown. I expect that ‘Family’ gets the attention it deserves from the world premiere at IFFR. I hope it gets a good distribution,” Palathara said.

“Family,” written by Palathara and Sherin Catherine, is produced by Anto Chittilappilly for Newton Cinema, the outfit behind “Kiss” by Varun Grover, whose “All India Rank” is also a Rotterdam selection this year, and Megha Ramaswamy’s “Lalanna’s Song.”

“Newton Cinema loves telling socially relevant stories and after reading the script of ‘Family,’ we knew it is a perfect fit for us to produce. As an excellent filmmaker, Don Palathara made this amazing film that we are extremely proud of,” Chittilappilly told Variety. “We’re honored to have ‘Family’ being selected to premiere at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam and it is definitely a confirmation of excellence.”  

“Family” premieres on Jan. 28.