(Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis)
Hindi | Film | Director: Anamika Haksar
This is my belated first post about experiences at the Kochi Biennale in December 2018. I am starting not at the beginning of my journey there, but rather with this striking film whose images haven’t really left my mind.
A whirlwind of images that cycle from dreams to reality as we are drawn into the lives, desires, of remembering and forgetting of residents of Old Delhi. A woman describes having eaten only one chapati in a number of days and then the constant ache in her stomach as she sorts rubbish, picking up a tiny boat figurine as she talks of her father who worked as a fisherman. The smallest snapshots of dreams that touch on issues greater than life. The woman who dreams of lying with her female friend and them laughing, joyful. The man who thinks of his tribal community from his homeplace Jharkhand and the injustices committed against Adivasis. The labourer who imagines his boss as a lizard in a jar while being verbally abused by him, the woman who dreams of her and her husband in fine clothes, sipping cool drinks. Mr Jain’s famous tour is hijacked by the pickpocket played by Ravindra Sahu, whose use of physical theatre on the screen is striking. His alternative tour that weaves through the spice markets, to an old woman preparing aloo methi, where the workers eat sabzi, dal, chawal for 10 rupees. The story of the woman and the pin, who as a child would pick up every grain of rice that fell with a pin in order to eat it. Walking with a foreign tourist who doesn’t want to hear the stories of the woman whose son died when he fell in a well or the man whose father was a communist and suffered the consequences. A doorway that closes, hiding the face of a boy. Police targeting the vulnerable. In a fighting ring with authority. Failure of the health system. Set up of a ‘temporary hospital’. A woman who has been repetitively abused, treatment with special water and lighting of a lamp. To the ‘real’ tour with fresh meat and bread, jalebi. The alternative tour with jeera water and the offer of the 10 rupee meal amongst the locals, denied by all. The pickpocket turned tour guide holds the gaze of a young woman. Begins to reminisce about love that was lost. No linearity but an intoxicating swirl with the use of animation and paintings. Every shot striking and provoking, continuing to swirl long after the screen is out.
Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon screened recently at Sundance. It has not been picked up for a general release at the time of writing, but I did read that Haksar and team are hoping to take it to the theatre.
Film | USA, Chile, Germany, Spain | 2017 | Spanish
Imagine you are a woman. A woman in great shock and grief for the loss of a loved one. Grief is a challenge, right? Now imagine you identify as a woman. But the hospital staff where your beloved dies, the police and your beloved’s family don’t respect your identity. In fact, they are so caught up in putting you into a category, naming what you are or what you are not, that they fail to treat you with basic human respect and decency. Fail to show sensitivity to the fact that you have lost your love. And to the fact that you are grieving. The hospital staff offer you suspicion rather than condolences. The police, in the name of protection, come with the idea that because you are transgender your story is singular, with only one possibility. One which couldn’t possibly include love. You are treated not as a fellow human, but as a something else. You are assaulted verbally and physically. At first, you take the blows. You stand before people who are taking out their hurt, pain and ignorance on you. You, on the other hand, channel your anger into a punching bag. You sing out your pain. And even as the behaviour of those around you becomes increasingly dispicable towards revolting, you hold your grace. Your honesty and decency exposes the vile behaviour of others. And you stand strong. The wind blows fiercely, but you stand your ground. You are not even given opportunity for goodbye to your beloved. But you persevere and pursue the closure that you are entitled to. You claim it.
That is where this film took me.
India | 2017 | Malayalam, Hindi
A ceremony for the worship of Goddess Durga through documentary footage is where we begin. As men move in spiritual ecstasy. And we are taken to two who are suspended by hooks through the skin on their backs. A scene lit by headlights takes us to our protagonists, Kabeer and Durga, the names alone implying a Muslim man with a Hindu woman, on the run. Kabeer of Kerala and Durga a Hindi-speaking north Indian. They are picked up by a passing car. Two men are inside. And as we are plumeted forward, along for the ride, it becomes not about what happens inside the vehicle, but rather what doesn’t happen. What your mind is daring you to fear will happen. This film throttles along a very fine line from start to finish. As we are reminded by the benevolent driver and friend, that they have done nothing wrong by Durga and Kabeer. It is the fear in the bodies of the protoganists. The fears that we in the audience personally hold from our own experiences or from what we’ve heard about India that interact wildly with what is unfolding on the screen. We are also presented with policemen as interrogators, not protectors. And the type of policing of each other that citizens do, especially when it comes to women being out at night. This film stays right on that edge. But we can easily take it beyond with our own assumptions and presumptions. Durga the goddess is worshipped. Durga the woman is vulnerable. A sole woman in these night scenes. The men run over hot coals for Durga the goddess. The men in the car take joy from Durga the woman’s fear. And stare unwaveringly at her. You must move with the unpredictable rhythm of this film. The stop, start, eb and flow. For resistance to the forward motion of the story without a script will allow your own vulnerability to take you over. Let’s hope this film is released in its home country. I wait to hear how it sits with or hits people there. I came to this film on the recommendation of a friend from Kerala, so may they see it soon.
Film | Algeria | 2017 | Arabic, French
Nature is generous. It doesn’t care if we’re good people or not (Says the man who gives away pomegranates to the woman who first took without asking)
I have wanted to go to Algeria since I was fairly young. I am not really sure why really, but it is one of those countries that I knew and still know so little about that it captured my imagination somehow. So for that reason I was drawn to this film. It presents a series of stories that roll into each other. First up, the man torn between his two families. The ex wife who he effortlessly still confides in and his current belle with whom communication is rife. Dialogue moves between Arabic and French throughout. The next story, of love that was lost and found again. With nowhere to go. As we move out of the city and into hills and rock formations. The delectable scenary plays a key part. There is even a random musical interlude. A jolt away from the tragedy of hearts that is unfolding. The final story touches on the Algerian civil war. And leaves much to the audience to draw her conclusions. That sort of narrative where different characters collide to then carry the story in their own direction resembles films like Amores Perros or Crash a little. It feels a bit like as soon as there is an opening for connection to these characters though, the film plummets forward. So while it gives some gentle snap shots of this country and eludes to complexities of the war and a society at the crossroads of tradition, modernity and how the two may interact, it falls short of something more profound for me. I only hope there are more Algerian films that I cross paths with in the near future. Perhaps with a greater diversity of characters from all walks of life.
feat. Krakatau | France, Czechoslavakia | 1973 | French
The giant blue alien-like hand of the Draag picks up the human-like Om woman. She is a plaything. An animal. Merged with the sound of keyboard, percussion and saxophone from the box above, it begins. An exploration of us vs them in a world where Om is the savage that needs taming and Draag is physically sophisticated, educated and dominant. Wear a colar, little Om. Do as I say, little Om and I will love you. You will love me. Tiwi je t’aime. Répète. Feel the frustration of an Om in a colar. The suffering of one for the joy of the other. In the world outside you may not know who is friend and who is foe. With animals and shrubs that may be on the attack. Is it a tree or the sleeping face of a man? It feels a bit Dalí. These cleverly constructed creatures are not short of surprises. In sounds, in movements. As the saxophone wails through scenes of loving and loathing. A story that reminds us to find the bridge between groups of difference. That which connects. I like hearing eyes. Or seeing sounds. A wondrous new place is where such alchemy of sound and vision in this screening took me.
Mexico | 2017
I woke up from a dream the night after watching this film in which I was speaking my second language Spanish and no one around me could understand me. Paranoid much? But no. My point is that what it is like for two central characters of this film, Don Isauro and Don Evaristo, who are the last custodians of the Zikril language is strongly depicted in this film. The other characters on offer include the urban Mexican linguist Martín and Don Evaristo’s granddaughter Lluvia – I am sure you will never guess what happens between them. This film doesn’t romanticise the linguist too much. The linguist openly offers an object of desire in exchange for participation in his research, for example. There is an infuriating scene too, in which Martín is sitting with Don Isauro, engrossed in capturing the words of Zikril and prioritising his work over the fact that the elderly man is coughing and struggling to breathe let alone talk. The rain provides a constant background beat which is interfering with his recording. This is one of the many moments that also reminds us of the power of la madre tierra (mother earth) along with the strength of the spirit world, in this film depicted as el encanto (the enchantment). Long shots of the green, lush environment give the audience another character to dance with along with some funny moments amongst the drama that unfolds. The film ultimately presents an attempt to ‘save’ a language as a journey of humanisation of the linguist as he delves deeper into and becomes a part of the entwined stories of the people of this small-town community.
So here it begins. Well not really, but it is the beginning of THIS. I don’t know where THIS may take us, but let it be an exploration. One that begins with my little selection for Melbourne International Film Festival 2017. I managed to narrow it down to 17 sessions of film, documentary, short films and even a little Virtual Reality, screening from tomorrow (8 August) until 20 August. I will reveal them as we go, but let me tell you, it sure is an eclectic mix! This isn’t going to be standard review writing, ‘I liked it because…’ blah blah blah, because that is not really me. Think more along the lines of poetic responses to films, the quirky conversations that went on before or after OR creating for you the images that have stayed with me or the learnings I take from these on-screen journeys. No frills, just me writing how I see it, feel it, hear it.