Art & Entertainment

Film Review: The Broken Table

The Broken Table is a visual treat for the eyes and balm for the distressed soul. It stirs you deeply and urges you to see the ‘broken’ not from the perspective of something which is damaged and is in need of either repair or a replacement.

A scene from The Broken Table
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Memory cannot be divided or erased completely. While the reality of Alzheimer’s disease is nightmarish for those living with the condition on a daily basis, selective amnesia is an even more dangerous thing for the human consciousness. It can evoke extreme emotions from violence to despondency and despair to delirium. Caught in the vortex of fractured dementia and phased cognitive impairment, director Chintan Sarda’s recently released short film titled, The Broken Table gives a healing perspective on human beings battling emotional conundrum. Starring Naseeruddin Shah and Rasika Dugal, this 23-minute film highlights the inadequacy of usual, matter-of-fact human responses to psychological crises stemming from the absence of communication, clarity, and compassion in relationships.

Giridhar (Naseeruddin Shah), a retired divorce lawyer, is beginning to show early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and his family decides to appoint a caregiver so that he is not left to his own devices when there is no one around to take care of him. Otherwise, as his daughter-in-law remarks, ‘Dad is functional.’ Enter Deepti (Rasika Dugal), an M.A. psychology student, who cannot contain her ‘excitement’ at the prospect of meeting her first ‘live subject’ of study. Assuring Giri’s family members, who are on their way to a wedding, of her credentials, Deepti begins her duty hours as a caregiver to an Alzheimer’s patient who has been restless and fidgety for the last few days. What follows is a one-day journey into the inner landscape of a person whose failing memory ends up unlocking several closed doors of the past.

Giri has been desperately trying to reach out to his wife Prabha, who seems to have disappeared without giving her husband an idea of her return. Even her phone is out of network area. Giri, scuttling across the past and present, keeps talking about going to an urgent hearing, a hearing that happened years ago. Time and space are all mixed up in Giri’s mind. On better days, he can recognise his son and be convinced that he is uselessly fretting over a done-and-dusted court hearing. On other days, Giri feels like a caged bird who is not allowed to go outside the main gate of his house. He calls it ‘illegal confinement.’

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A scene from The Broken Table


Deepti observes Giri’s behaviour closely and scribbles notes in her diary. During the course of the day, she approaches Giri more as a client than a human being. Curious to learn about Giri and Prabha’s marriage, Deepti pretends to take relationship advice from Giri just to keep him busy till the time his family returns from the wedding. Giri’s love for Prabha is like an ocean, endless and infinite. Married for 41 years, Giri’s eyes sparkle when he talks about Prabha and how she has been the light in his life. There comes a time in the film when the tables turn and Giri nonchalantly flips open his diary and begins asking Deepti questions about her marriage and why she is filing for a divorce. Of course, Giri has happily forgotten that Deepti is not his ‘client’ but his ‘caregiver.’ Giri assures Deepti that the details she divulges will be kept strictly ‘confidential’. On the pretext of playing along, albeit unwillingly, Deepti dwells on her relationship with husband Dhruv. ‘Short-tempered and controlling but not abusive,’ declares Deepti when asked about the way her husband treats her. Little does she know, she has surrendered her position and given up her power as the ‘caregiver’, though momentarily, and taken the seat of the hapless ‘client’ who is unsure if she is compromising in a marriage of unequals. Her buried desires and dreams find an unexpected release as she starts talking about her marriage, her idea of love and romance, career, and life goals. And just like that, the therapist finds herself on the seat of the powerless patient.

The roles have reversed and power dynamics shifted. Deepti realises Giri has slipped into his past and is thinking of himself as a practising lawyer. There is a hint of embarrassment in Deepti, who had till then been treating Giri as part of a psychology experiment. Now that she is at the receiving end, there is obvious discomfort. The hierarchical equation between a doctor and a patient or an owner and a client is revealed in the most seamless manner in this film. The one who ‘fixes’ a problem or is in a position to mend what is ‘broken’ has an automatic tendency to assume superiority. The twist in the tale opens a pandora’s box for Giri and Deepti. Both are taking notes on each other now, perhaps to reach either an impasse, or figure out a way to cross that bridge they have been unable to for a while. The other side possibly promises a new dawn and a future where both of them can confront their inner demons and shed the cloak of hesitance, guilt, doubt, and shame. 

In a series of recollections, Giri tells Deepti how presumptuous he had been about Prabha in his early days of struggles as a lawyer. Even his second-hand working desk kept in a 5X5 room of a rented accommodation had a huge crack of which he was ashamed. He didn’t have the heart to invite Prabha to his office lest she judged him. But what happened when Prabha eventually found out, Deepti asks Giri. Prabha drew a tree on the broken table and the crack became one of the branches of that green, luscious tree. What is remarkable in this scene is the way Giri, who couldn’t remember his grandson the same morning, recalls every little detail immaculately as if it occurred a few moments ago. Writers Vikram Gupta and Chintan Sarda brilliantly expose the flaw of human beings. Often, we think we know but we actually don’t, and we are not ready to accept it. Our preconceived notions make us vulnerable to situations that we have already imagined would take a certain course. In our ‘preparedness’, we forget that our imagined responses to imagined scenarios can only lead to more confusion and misconstructions of truth and reality.
 

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The Broken Table ft. Naseerudin Shah and Rasika Dugal

‘Prabha, the wife is dead.’ When Giri accidentally finds these words scribbled on Deepti’s diary, he is livid beyond belief. The more Deepti tries to convince Giri about his ‘dead’ wife and the fact he is suffering from memory loss and that he is liable to forget everything in less than an hour, the more Giri is adamant and keeps demanding for an explanation. Circumstances around Deepti compel her to believe and that too with a lot of conviction that the wife is dead and therefore the husband is on the verge of lunacy. However, the film’s climax holds up a mirror not only to Deepti but also the viewers who are almost inclined to go with Deepti’s version of the story. Both Deepti and the viewer realise the mistake of prejudice and hasty decisions and conclusions. Selective judgment, much like selective amnesia, is harmful and adversely affects our overall well-being. Action on the premise of presumption is lethal, the ramifications of which can be irrevocable. 

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The Broken Table is a visual treat for the eyes and balm for the distressed soul. It stirs you deeply and urges you to see the ‘broken’ not from the perspective of something which is damaged and is in need of either repair or a replacement. Instead, the film nudges us to reform ourselves and look inward with a sincere intent of moving forward to that which is wholesome.

(The film is streaming on the Large Short Films channel on YouTube.)

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