Amidst all talk of sleep deprivation and erratic eating during film festivals, less is said about the overwhelming emotional overload of sitting through multiple films back to back. Of stepping into the shoes of so many people, living so many journeys and feeling..so much.
I end day 2 of the festival feeling drained and defeated. Despite one welcome, uplifting movie, it was a day of constant dread and distress in terms of the films seen with two, in particular, leaving me shaken and in desperately in need of a fluffy rom-com.
Sexy Durga: Delirious And Devastating
Here’s the upside about watching a bone-chillingly frightening film first thing in the morning – it’s better than watching it at night. The downside? You’re watching a bone-chillingly frightening film….first thing in the bloody morning.
Sexy Durga is an exhaustingly terrifying film (no negative connotation) which doesn’t as much get your heart racing as it does keep it consistently on the verge of exploding. It refuses to let up and give you many moments of relief and is simply one of the most tense cinematic experiences I’ve sat through.
Sometimes the calm is more terrifying than the storm it predicts. That is the very essence of Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga which revels in those last few moments before a hellish ordeal, which he stretches on for what feels like an eternity.
The atmospheric experience of the film aside, I don’t claim to have understood much of its meaning. The story tells of couple Kabir and Durga who attempt to run away together in the dead of night in Kerala and manage to hitch a ride with a group of increasingly nightmarish men who give new meaning to the word unsettling. The film repeatedly cuts away from the main narrative to documentary footage of what I suspect is some form of Durga Pooja ceremony which features men having hooks inserted to their skin, using which they are then hung by onto a truck and driven around as part of a religious procession. Yeah, you read that
correctly. Perhaps Sasidharan’s intention was to highlight the fact that Durga is a goddess we pray to but when it comes to how women are perceived in real life it’s entirely a different equation.
Sexy Durga also boasts of some dizzying camera work with some wonderful upside-down shots and marvellous long takes. The entire film seems to have been shot in but a handful of takes and is equally a triumph in performance with the actors all providing fantastic performances for prolonged stretches of time.
The film admittedly lost me in its final leg as it got increasingly more deranged, which I imagine was entirely intentional. However, at that point, I just yearned to be put out of my misery and see some relief of being so on edge so consistently.
Bad Lucky Goat: Siblings Of The Caribbean
Samir Oliveros' Bad Lucky Goat is a lovely exploration of a foreign culture, and a wonderful testament to the power of the movies in enabling you to learn about the smallest nooks and corners of the world. Set on a Caribbean island, the film tells the story of bickering teenage brother-sister pair Corn (short for Cornelius) and Rita who are constantly at loggerheads.
After accidentally damaging their parents’ car and killing a goat, the two embark on an unlikely adventure across the island through which they must put aside their
differences and reconnect once again.
Bad Lucky Goat is a heartfelt exploration of island life with a host of colourful characters (many played by non-actors) who keep it interesting despite a threadbare narrative. Though Oliveros' comedy isn't always the most engaging affair its filled with the spirit of adventure and makes for a rewarding experience just by merit of being transported to a wonderful, far away land. I personally couldn't get enough of their delightfully distinctive and almost rhythmic accent, so strong that many didn't even realise they are speaking English.
Bad lucky goat is far from perfect but has an honest soul and a heartwarming tale of reconnecting with those we take for granted.
What Will People Say: Wake Up And Smell The Patriarchy
Iram Haq’s semi-autobiographical What Will People Say is the harrowing tale of 15-year old Nisha, living in Norway, whose orthodox Pakistani family essentially kidnap her and whisk her away to Pakistan after walking in on her with a boy.
Haq’s movie grabs you and refuses to let go and left me shaken and in pieces. Imagine having subjugation beaten into to you. Having any semblance of hope or freedom systematically taken away. Having your rights revoked and very identity burnt to ashes in front of your eyes, while trapped in a strange far away, cut off from everything you know and all those you hold dear.
Nisha (played beautifully by Maria Mozhdah) is demonised for nothing more than being a normal teenager, blamed for destroying the social standing of her family. Pathetically hilarious considering she is nothing but a victim of some truly harrowing ordeals at the hands of her father (Adil Hussain) and traditional family in Pakistan. The film is equally a comment on how little really changes across nations when it comes to repressive cultures and destructive traditions. Be it Pakistan or Norway, the very same patriarchal structure and ‘log kya kahenge mentality reigns supreme.While the film takes a number of liberties in logic to service the story and is far from perfect, it is an essential story which deserves to be seen by as many as possible. On a more frustrating note, the screening I attended is a living lesson in how not to do subtitling. The subtitles seemed to have a mind of their own given they were wrongly-translated, mistimed, inconsistent and dangerously on the verge of derailing the film.
While the film takes a number of liberties in logic to service the story and is far from perfect, it is an essential story which deserves to be seen by as many as possible. On a more frustrating note, the screening I attended is a living lesson in how not to do subtitling. The subtitles seemed to have a mind of their own given they were wrongly-translated, mistimed, inconsistent and dangerously on the verge of derailing the film.
Despite being a true story, I imagine many would see the actions of the Nisha’s parents as extreme and unrelatable, but growing up abroad, this writer has overheard many a casual conversation at Indian social gatherings where ‘You should send him/her back to India’ is a genuine threat and punishment. That is the essence of Haq's film. It’s a call to arms, urging us to look around us and identify the very same evils we are choosing to overlook.
What Will People Say left me broken and desperately wondering how many Nishas there are out there at this very second. Under our noses, in our neighbourhoods, in our lives. What can we do for them? How do we save them?
(This is the second part of OutlookIndia’s ongoing daily coverage of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2017).