Demystifying the Equivocation in Edmund Yeo’s Triad of Short Films

Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo’s series of short films – Inhalation, Exhalation, and Kingyo – is a triad of recherché stories, invigorated by an enigmatic method of story-telling that vouchsafes an idiosyncratic brand of filmmaking, subsequently bestowing a solitary trait to each film. Akin to a Venn’s diagram, all the three films prevail discreetly, while collectively apportioning the 2-characters attribute, which remains the only common trait among the three. Inhalation and Kingyo share ‘love’ -or the lack of it – to thrust the narrative, while Kingyo shares death – and the repercussions that follow – with Exhalation. The third duad, Inhalation, and Exhalation, apart from being eponymous to the process they cumulatively contribute to, breathing, -the most vital sign of physical life – the two films collectively reflect the three facets, namely love, life, and death.

Yeo’s no philosopher. His films hold a mirror, and bespeak life, in all its mundanity and monotony. These films exhibit no zeal in metamorphosing into credos that aspire to be life-affirmative. That’s the point, they are mere reflections of humdrum people, like you and me. There is a lofty peril of misapprehending these films as lackadaisical in construction, as they may feel slightly desultory and abstruse at times, especially when contemplated with an eye for scrutiny. However, seeking the meaning for the films – where the intricacy lies in lucid reality – is a gratifying process that molds itself. 

From a viewpoint, these films are so slight and subtle that it’s onerous to dissect them, and from the other end, perhaps there is no exigency for the anatomy because the viewer’s first-hand reaction is the only substantial explanation. The first feeling that strikes you, is all you want to know; let it be regarding the oscillation between black & white and color in Exhalation, or the arcane ending of Kingyo. The instantaneous reaction audibly and elegantly summarizes the upshot. Yeo’s modus operandi is evident in all the three films, which let us peep into the minds of characters, predominantly two in each film, and pursue them through the cloaking time. Mind, I repeat, not the soul; foraying into the minds is no teeny-weeny exploit, in light of the minuscule runtime and minimalistic stories the characters emanate from.

Posters of the films in discussion

Inhalation is about a young couple with contrasting ideologies, that asserts them farther from one another, physically and mentally. She is driven by the need for a better life, while he stresses on extracting the best out of the existing life, instead of swedging for a different life, in the pretext of aim and objective

Kingyo, meaning goldfish in Japanese, is a dialogue between a young woman and her former college professor, converging at a point long past their romantic relationship, that is symbolized by a pair of goldfish. 

At the focal point of Exhalation is a young woman, who returns to her native place after learning about the demise of her ex-classmate. Although the friend who accompanies the protagonist is the second character, the dead classmate,  – who exists only in her memory, never to be seen on screen – is equally crucial in navigating the character through dream-like, recondite episodes of the story.

Through these three films, there is a deep understanding of life, what comprises it, and what exists beyond, for those surrounding the dead. The thought of swapping the titles, Inhalation and Exhalation, is intriguing. Reciprocation of the titles would befit the respective stories than their existing titles. Allow me to simplify, Exhalation is a repertoire of individuals’ responses to the death of someone they all know. One feels sad, one acknowledges and moves on, and one commits to suicide. Through the film, characters continually suspire the information as they keep learning it. Not once do they lighten the burden off their chest; in other words, they keep suffusing themselves with information and never extricate it. The title Inhalation would have beautifully complemented the burgeoning pressure.

Likewise, the core conflict of Inhalation is the clash of beliefs, not faith-based, but life-based. The divergence of tenets ramifies into verbose arguments. The man channelizes his anger on the woman in the form of a wordy catharsis, and that makes Inhalation an exhalation of exasperation.

However, Kingyo would remain untouched. Like the only enduring symbol of the bond between its two leads, the film is the midpoint of Inhalation and Exhalation.

Betwixt love and death, there exists heartbreak, and the three films collectively summon this facet, as much as they do individually.

***

Fun fact: Edmund Yeo made these films a decade ago, when he was in his mid-20s.

The shorts are now available to stream on Mubi library and his official webiste.

The Letter to Cannes

A couple of months back, when staying at home was restricted to couch potatoes, I applied to ‘3 days at Cannes’ program. The biggest film festival in the universe – provided aliens haven’t discovered the magic called cinema – allowed commoners to experience the exhilaration for 3 days, and I couldn’t refrain myself from giving it a try. I mean, what kind of cinephile would I be without taking a shot at writing a cover letter, that would reward a lifetime experience. I’m letting the letter hang here as an act of brag.

*****

To Whom It May Concern

I’ve always viewed writing cover letters as an exercise of self-selling. Obviously, why would anyone advocate the second person, unless they see the benefit in doing so? To make sure I stand apart from my competition, it boils down to the point where I ‘sell’ myself in disguise of ‘motivation’! 

My father continually moved from one place to another. He kept going to places, literally and figuratively, and being a nuclear Indian family we are, not staying together was never a question; even the idea of having me and mother stay at a place while my father worked elsewhere, was non-existent. As a result, I studied in 9 schools, and the side effect, we’d move away before the relationship I had with children of my metamorphosed into this notion called ‘friendship’. I never felt desolate, though. I always had my ‘movies’ keeping me company. Watching a movie in a theatre was – and still is – the most exciting ‘event’ that I looked forward to. Post the event, cherishing the memory of the time spent in the theatre was equally delightful as I waited for the next time I’d sit in a dingy auditorium losing the track of time, reality, world, and myself.

What began as a love affair that bolstered to ‘escape’ the world, soon sprouted into the fascination with the art form. An email I received on July 16th, 2019, altered my life. I got accepted to be a part of the Young Critics Lab by Mumbai International Film Festival. Mentored by Baradwaj Rangan, the greatest Indian film critic, that’s when my writing journey started taking baby steps. The workshop, in the first place, taught me how to watch a film and dissect it shot by shot. As part of the Young Critic Jury, the 6 days I spent discovering Cinema from diverse cultural backgrounds was a wake-up call to explore gems I had overlooked my entire life. Ever since, writing was a catharsis. A release of feelings and emotions channeled through words. Here are some of my writings if you wish to read.

  1. Brotherhood
  2. I Lost My Body
  3. Soni – Video Essay
  4. Port Authority
  5. Haider

For a 22-year-old person coping up with career, choices, and life, the experience paved a direction, and attending Cannes is sure to be a life-affirmative experience like MAMI 19, but only exponentially more impactful considering the diversity the festival is associated with.

I’m not the best. There are a lot of talented and deserving individuals, but my competition is not with them. I aspire to be the best version of myself. Upgrading my skills and upping my game is all I aspire to, and Cannes is sure to help me with that.

All in all, writing this cover letter took on a ride of memories, and I wish writing this letter by itself would be a memory to cherish soon.

Cheers!

Ram Venkat Srikar

*****

A fortnight later – when the world was in the process of realizing its fragility – this dropped in my inbox.

I wasn’t hysteric this time around. There was no reason to be disappointed. Getting acceptance – the external validation that I was worthy enough – suffused me with happiness. Looking back at this, the craving for outward acceptance is sadder than missing the opportunity to attend Cannes, an opportunity that would have in turn bestowed more opportunities, speaking hypothetically.

Sonder, Empathy, and The White Baloon

A feeling or expression that I look for in every film, or should I say, in every person I come across is ‘Sonder’. It’s a fascinating word that stands for a profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers we come across on streets, hav a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.

Do you get it? Back in the olden days, when we used to walk on crowded streets, watch films in packed auditoriums, and eat in restaurants, everyone in our physically vicinity had a life as vivid and deep as us. Like they were faceless bypassers in our lives, we are by passers in theirs. They experience the same emotions and human complexities as us. Let it be an old man struggling to find a spot to sit in a metro train, or annoying teenaged girl who cannot get rid of her phone amid a movie.

Also, I strongly feel the word sonder is interrelated to empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Where there is sonder, empathy will follow. If we realise that the other person’s life is as deep as ours, empathizing with them is assured.

I’m talking in length about these two emotions because Jafar Pahani’s debut feature The White Balloon primarily deals with them, or in a way, the lack of these two emotions in humans.

Minimalistic in nature, the film tells the story of 7-year old Razieh who has to fight numerous odds to buy a goldfish, as the clock ticks for Islamic new year. The seemingly simple task of going to the Tehrene market and purchasing the fish she desired, mounts into an impossible task, as she faces adversaries in different forms one after the other, all in a tenure of 1 hour 15 minutes.

Starting from procuring the money from her mother, to facing a snake charmer who tries to take her money, and the most severe of all, losing the note to a grate on the street, the young girl struggles to achieve what she set out for. Retrieving the note becomes an arduous task for both the girl and her elder brother, who joins her on the quest. However, seen from the perspective of these by-passers in the narrative, it is just two annoying kids hindering their plans.

A still from the film

Throughout their struggle, there is a clear view of empathy and the lack of it through different characters. An elderly lady who bolsters Razieh in finding the path, literally and figuratively.  And the titular white balloon asserted me to rethink the entire narrative, while leaving us with a jolt. It’s a glorious instance for Michael Scott to recite his iconic line, “Well, well, well. How the turntables…”

Jafar Panahi doesn’t try to represent the world in it’s all doom and gloom. We do come across people who empathize with the children and extend a helping hand. However, more the empathy, lesses the struggle.

The brilliance of the film lies in its ending, which suffused me with ‘sonder’. The balloon, who becomes the hero of the entire film, sits idly as the children rejoice at their accomplishment. That’s when it strikes, perhaps we talk about empathy only when we are in dire need of it.

The fact that the film has a seemingly happy ending is proof that despite the hardships we go through in our lives, when we exhibit empathy and stand for each other could make our lives much better. It’s an exhibition of human nature, a theme that would remain consistent through the auteur’s glorious filmography.

A slightly modified version of this piece can be found here as an AV

The Sheer Joy of Life in ‘Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi?’

April 24, 2020:

Early this week, after an exhausting day of working from home, I spoke to my friend and fellow blogger Sai Sagar. Like most of our conversations, it primarily encircled films. The discourse then veered towards life during the lockdown period, and spun around one film. The world has come to a screeching halt and has been standing still for the last couple of weeks. There’s no movement, literally and figuratively. Airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy while organizations are unable to keep the cash flow running. Salary cuts and lay-offs are the inevitable aftertastes inching towards a colossal global impact. Times like this expose how fragile the entire world is. Speaking of this predicment of unheard proportions, Sagar said:

“I was in a metro station the other day, before all the hell broke loose. Came down through the lift, walking towards the exit gate, and I saw this horde of people, indulged in the mobile phones they were holding in hand. Not a single person had a sense of the surrounding? Just walking towards the exit gate, a destination, as a swarm. That’s when I asked myself, and I’m not making it this up – Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi? (What happened to this city?)”

This is a question I ask myself quite often. Irrespective of where you hail from, it’s highly probable that we share the same mind space at the moment. A couple of weeks back, we were running behind something. A couple of weeks from now, we will start chasing it, again. Despite diserning that everything we stand for is, indeed, feeble, we will get back to it. The quarantine period is a breather to many; an essential one. People are spending time with their families, which was otherwise confined to #WeekendTime and #FamilyTime. After learned that staying alive is the elemental need in order to achieve our goals, I hope we start taking ‘living’ seriously and ‘life’ lightly. That’s exactly what the 2018 Telugu film, Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi slapped on our face. 

The Tharun Bhascker-directorial is an ethnographic achievement, drawing heavily from his own life. The end-product is one of the most personal films to come out of a country whose obsession with ‘larger-than-life’ stories blinds the yardstick to measure the scale and span of actual life. On this premise,

Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi is life.

Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi is a mood that made me wish it lasted longer.

Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi is a feeling that I wanted for the rest of my life.

Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi is a humble reminder to stop taking yourself too seriously.

Mostly set in sunny exteriors, with four friends continually sticking together — again, both figuratively and literally — the film contradicts our present. To me, the film underlines the great disaprity between pre-pandemic and and pademic era.

The end-note of the film is profound.

It says “నచ్చిన మనుషులతో నాలుగు మెతుకులు అన్నం తినుకుంటా నచ్చిన పని చెయ్యడం రా లైఫ్ అంటే”

The most important end-note in the history of telugu cinema.

It translates to “Life is all about surrounding yourself with people you like, good food, and doing work you cherish”

That’s it. A ton of wisdom in a buddy-comedy. Pretty odd, right?

Anyone who realizes the aforementioned facet of life is truly lucky, as there is nothing more to life beyond that. I, myself, have always been a ‘serious guy’. I mistook seriousness for determination. I loathed the backbenchers during engineering. Looking back two years later, all of us have arrived at the same point. The point is right now. Yes, pay scales vary, but is the currency of the utmost value to trade for joy? Yes, to an extent, if your definition of joy lies in substantial terms.

Peeking inside, though, it’s void.

If you haven’t seen the film, these are the four characters through which the story unveils through a life lesson.

Karthik – The embodiment/representation of today’s millennials, to whom success is gauged on materialistic fundamentals, i.e. the bungalow, and the bank balance, among other fiscal merits.

Vivek – An ever agitated personality who comes off as a pain-in-the-ass, with a fixation to do only what he likes. Bitter, but it’s real.

Uppi – A timid nonchalent editor, who is rarely expressive, but holds the conviction.

Kaushik – A consistent reminder that life is supposed to be cherished.

(L-R) Vivek, Uppi, Kaushik, and Karthik

While all of them, except Karthik, appear chilled out about life, their way of life is not be mistaken for ‘laid-back attitude’ or ‘uninspired’ life. That’s how I mistook people, with a chilled-out nature. Now, I realize, no matter how serious one is, everyone will end up in the same boat. So, save the solemnity. If I could empathize with them, Kaushik would be my spirit animal, while my personality falls between Uppi and Karthik. Success to many of us, means substantial terms, like Karthik, but is it worth the gamble at the expense of happiness? A generation above us (the 20-somethings), would argue crying tucked in the soft blanket of a king-sized bed while eating pineapple cake in the air-conditioned room of your beach-facing villa is better than crying in a 1-BHK. But why cry, in the first place? If that’s what you want, great! Work towards it. If happiness is all you want, refer to the aforementioned end-note.

Unlike other coming-of-age, soul-finding stories, the characters of Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi, don’t find their calling while on a vacation in an exotic country. The fact that they cannot afford a trip to one such country, and in-fact are practically jobless, yet are full of life and joy should be a life-exercise to us.

While it is always a good time to cherish this lovely little movie, now is perhaps the best time to watch it and laugh at our misery/stupidity before the coronavirus abruptly interfered and asked us to calm down.

Ee Nagaraniki Emaidi is streaming on Netflix.

Further, here’s a lovely song from the film.

A Flood of Thoughts on ‘After Life’

After Life 2 is the pillow you can cuddle on to while feeling blue, and this might very well be the perfect time to do so.

In the second season of After Life, nothing has changed. Tony, still mourning the death of his wife, Lisa, finds it arduous to get his life further. A grief-stricken Tony admits that all the best bits of his life died along with Lisa, and he is left with his somber self and a boon companion, Brandy, a German Shepherd.

The title, After Life, is one centriole, among the plethora of friendly wrangles between Tony and his co-worker, Kath. Tony’s atheism steers him to completely ignore the concept of life after death, whereas Kath disapproves of his skepticism. Like the title intends to, the concept of ‘afterlife’ is not fundamentally confined to what lies beyond death. It is about what exists ahead after a radical change in life. Death, probably, is the harshest change one can be imposed with, like in Tony’s case. Although he is alive, his past with Lisa’s companionship surpassingly contrasts with his present. 

Tony & Brandy

How the concept of ‘After Life’ applies to us, and Me.

There’s no suspicion that death convulses and inflicts agony in people, thereby leading to an afterlife of the dead, and those connected with. On the other hand, on a mildly strident scale of impact, an estranged relationship, a place with emotional attachment, or a horrendous work-life one leaves behind, pave way for the afterlife. Picture that two people have been in a relationship for a couple of years, through the peaks and valleys, when the juncture to part ways arrives, every single day post that point is the ‘afterlife’. Undoubtedly, when the perpetuity of the relationship hits the stalemate, what follows would not remain invariable for either of the people in the relationship.

Likewise, leaving a job, which absorbs the majority of our lives, is capable enough to turn lives upside down. It did for me, on a good note, because my life had already been down, and quitting job set the level right. There we go, moving on from a job that has left an execrable taste in life, could also be one’s afterlife. The concept of the afterlife resonates with all of us, some are conscious, others are not. For some, it’s just life. I, though, have seen multiple ‘afterlives’ for that matter. Over the years, I’ve quit multiple jobs, moved places, and have stifled relationships. Being emotionally feeble, circumstances affected me more than they should. On that front, emerging out of such situations time and over again, opened door(s) to my afterlife. 

It’s funny that all of us, some dealing with harder lives than others, have experienced this and most of us have ignored it for something substantial, because emotions don’t count as materialistic stuff. Right? 

After Life, the series I mean now, is all about acknowledging the elements that suffuse our ephemeral lives: Love, Memories, and the byproduct of these two facets, Happiness.

The World

The presence of the series is a sheer joy in a world (and especially from the part of it I hail from) that seldom disregards the emotional lows. The world Ricky Gervais creates in After Life doesn’t appear realistic to me, locked down in Western India. My world significantly differs from Tony’s, both from the outwards and inwards. The color Gervais paints on this world could be the faultless version of it. There’s still death, the mourning will follow, but people in this fictional world will value these, unlike the real one. 

Perhaps, there is a section of one such world, and the show only represents that. Perhaps, I’ve overlooked people in grief all my life. Perhaps, people wage wars with their emotions in their heads.

The fact that the story is set in Tambury, a fictional town, could back the point that the real world doesn’t value mental trauma. Tambury, warm in both color pallet and nature, coupled with the laid-back and nonchalant energy that wafts through the atmosphere, could be Gervais’ way of telling, “Stop being arseholes running pointlessly, and live.”

The desolate streets in Tony’s neighborhood stand for the bleak emptiness in him. Only the people passing through his mental proximity appear on the screen, and apparently, most of them end up becoming fleshy characters. Postman Pat, for instance, is one person who comes into his vicinity, and the character gradually develops an arc of its own. Slowly, the second season tells us that although Tony remains the center of the show’s universe, it is about about the world. What is the world, for that matter? The tiny organisms that evade it, humans. The flowering relationship of the homeless Pat and Roxy, a sex-worker, shapes into a lovely thread. Matt and Lenny, Tony’s brther-in-law and co-woker/friend get arcs pertaining to personal relationships and issues.

Pat & Roxy

The Office

It was only a matter of time for the creator of The Office to set up an equally awkward workplace. The funniest of the scenes in both the seasons of After Life leverage the fiddly nature of The Tambury Gazette’s employees. The working atmosphere of the local newspaper that Tony works for, is anything but exhausting. What creates the base for the completely unrealistic depiction of a workplace is the people’s ability to understand a co-worker’s mental affliction. How unrealistic? The office and its people, two factors that the show primarily sources its humor from, also attribute to some of the most heart-warming moments of the show. Everyone extending a helping hand to Tony, is a true joy to witness. The conversation between Tony and Kath in a coffee shop, which is the first instance Tony breaks down explicitly, is one of the half a dozen instances I cried. Tony’s emotional catharsis in front of a co-worker, and the warmth Kath reciprocates, is sure to instigate the thought of the absence of such people around us. Moreover, the bond between Tony and Sandy reflects the former’s fatherly nature, with clear mutual support. Tony is dealing with a mental crisis, while Sandy fights real-world problems to keep her family running. Both of them make up for a duo that’s dealing with an existential crisis, one directly and the other indirectly.

Need for Love

Yet another facet that invigorates the show is how much it emphasizes the need for love. Lives of Tony’s father and Anne, a widow whom Tony befriends at the graveyard, are testimonials of perennial love. For all one knows, the tragedy is inevitable for one person in the relationship. Melancholic, it is. Everyone needs Anne in their lives, empathetic and benevolent. Her support remains one factor in keeping Tony away from killing himself, and all she does is talk kindly. Anne, in a sense, is his actual therapist. Unlike Tony’s conventional therapist, who verbally tells him to stop feeling said, Anne comforts him when he is sad. The therapy sessions and the social incorrectness these conversations are infused with, are pure comic gold and an exaggerated satire on psychiatrists. As someone who attended psychiatric sessions, I discern the non-existent empathy that prevails through them. On the other hand, Anne’s mere presence is consoling.

Converging back to where I started, After Life is a pillow for loners to cuddle on to, and laugh and cry along. Regardless of where you hail from, your age, sex, and other materialistic factors, watching Tony is sure to make you happy and sad, because we know it’s life, and we would be in his shoes, sooner or later.

After Life is streaming on Netflix.

Loneliness, Emptiness, and Whale Valley

What’s the precise difference between emptiness and loneliness? 

As we practice physical distancing, which one of the two aforementioned feelings are we experiencing?

Which endures for longer periods than the other?

Emptiness or loneliness?

At the moment, as the humankind of the 21st-century tunnels through a preternatural chapter – whose inclusion in 22nd century’s academics is inevitable unless something in the future overshadows this – we, the humans, share a prevalent feeling, loneliness.

Some miss their marrows,

some pine to be reunited with their physically distant families,

and some agonize over losing their beloved ones who succumbed to the nauseating adversary that’s 0.06 microns in size

Not merely people in one’s life, but a demise transmutes to losing a part of the said’s self.

We are all, indeed, lonely. Perhaps more than ever.

We will emerge through this, unequivocally. Will that be an unhinged emergence, though? I stand irresolute on this facet.

The emptiness, though, will prevail. Emptiness has no allies with the number of people physically existing in one’s proximity. It’s in the mind, to put in one clichéd line.

Whale Valley by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson is a peek into an empty life, deluded as loneliness. The Icelandic short film leverages the sweeping, and note this, empty landscape to embody the protagonists’ personas. The quaint panorama of the farm in rural Iceland is a reflection of an empty mind. The ever-existing sound of blowing wind further presses this facet. The actuality that the country’s population is 10% of my city’s, only prepends to the existing empathy our newly born quarantine selves have on the film’s characters, siblings Arnar and Ívar.

The first time we see Arnar is with his head in a noose, frantic and suffused with sorrow. We see him from distance, in a blue-colored woolshed, which takes the shape of a portion of a vertically dismembered whale. Having witnessed his elder brother’s willingness to push extremes as a consequence of loneliness, the young Ívar towards home – either in trepidation or to alert his parents – only to be knocked over by the elder one who pardons his brother to not notify their parents, citing they can’t understand.

Arnar

 Why can’t parents understand?

The dinner table conversations are stiff, impersonal, and specifically frigid in nature, akin to the exterior atmosphere.

When Ívar verbally expresses to his father that Arnar could be sad again, neither expression nor acknowledgment exist.

Father

The choice of words is specific. There is ‘again’, meaning they have been through something similar. Yet, the concern in father is non-existent. Perhaps the father himself has been through a phase as such, and he is here. He made it through and expects his son follow the same. Perhaps. But no two people in the universe are alike, let alone the heedless father and suicidal son. 

Whale Valley is about coming in terms with life by one’s self, realizing what matters and whatnot. It’s about coming-of-age. It could be an accurate representation of isolated life that finds relevance in these times. Made 6 years ago, the story will stand relevant years from now, thanks to some lonely, empty, seldom overlooked lives which hold a negligible proportion in the world that houses some odd 7.7 billion humans.

A good friend once explained the difference between isolation and detachment. While confining one’s physical self to a room, disconnected with the real world stands for isolation, mentally distancing self from people while living amid them, is detachment. If the former invokes loneliness, the latter exemplifies emptiness. The ongoing mental crisis, is a simple reality check.

The pandemic barely hinges those, whose life has no void, but itself is one.

Not-so-fun fact: Arnar is the filmmaker’s middle name.

Ívar

The Whale Valley is now streaming on MUBI India and Vimeo.

Infinity War & my Life…

The world is bypassing an outlandish phase.

If the whole world was a book, this period would be the most atypical chapter that’d change the course of events to be followed.

Is this what people experienced when World War 2 posed a threat to turn their homes into ash, and their bodies into mere flesh?

I don’t know.

Are the present stakes higher than WW2?

I don’t know.

The world, though, is simultaneously different and akin to what it was seven decades ago. While the existing adversary does menace to kill us, the imperil, however, feels far more internal than WW2. 

Having not stepped outside the home for 2 weeks, working from home, living with my parents, I’ve been privileged enough during the lockdown. It’ll prevail for many more days to come, and the world still doesn’t seem like it’s coming in terms with the variation. It’s resisting. It’s a lazy Saturday evening as I write this. My Saturdays are customarily dedicated to watching movies. In spite of the increasing number of movies I’ve been seeing for the last couple of years on the big screen, the fascination for the experience only keeps sprouting.

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve seen 82 movies at the cinemas in 2018, and 70 in 2019, the majority of them alone. In 2020, though, I have been to the cinema a meager, half a dozen times. “I want cinema, not movies”, was my excuse. With half a dozen OTT subscriptions, watching films is academics, although I seldom slip in a fruitless movie, for the pointlessness of it. 

However, a mere 2 years ago, movie-watching was an event. A weekly or fortnightly. This precise point, 2 years ago, it fell during the final days of engineering, and Avengers: Infinity War was opening a couple of days before the ‘one last examination’. Avengers: Infinity War was not just a movie, it was a symbol of liberation from college, hostel, and the unproductive-meaningless life associated with these facets. In the months leading up the film’s release, I’d tell myself, “Infinity War is gonna change your life. You’ll be done with college, move out of the hostel, and kick-start career with an energy equivalent to Hulk punching the hostel warden!” 

IW released on the 27th of April, 2018. Although it was a gap day, I had a Professional Ethics in Engineering exam the day after. So, 28th April would mark the day I officially wave ‘good bye’ to engineering, and also watch the most anticipated movie of all time*. 

*Endgame took that spot 149 minutes later.

Like I said, IW was an event. Booking tickets was onerous, attributing to the poor network reception in the hostel. Bookings failed multiple times. Yet, we persisted using different cards, until one of my friends stepped up, offering to pay from his mobile wallet. All hail, PayTM!

There was:

Extensive planning: Who would come? What time? How do we go?

Limitations: Grabbing tickets was the most arduous task of all.

Permission Procurement: Obtaining the hostel warden’s stamp on permission passes.

Transportation: We resented to the public bus.

Walking out of the eximination hall at 1 PM, IW was all I could think about. Waved goodbyes to people I knew I’d never see again. It didn’t matter. They didn’t matter.

Finally, at 4 PM, 5 of us, arrived at the sacred venue that would screen one of the greatest movies of all time, AGS cinemas (Navalur), the closest cinema to college. The screening would start at 4:30 PM.

AGS, Navalur. Pic credits: A kind Google user.

As we all waited with bated breath, the door to the auditorium opened, followed by loud cheers from fellow fans! Entering an auditorium has never been more mesmerizing. The sense of excitement and joy I felt is still unequaled. I had started a new phase of my life, and this little film would mark the milestone. Our seats were in the frontmost row, those were the only we could get. There was energy wafting through the atmosphere.

I’m unsure if a 25-year old me would react similarly to the experience the 21-year old me did. Living at the center, it’s the job of the 23-year old present-me to answer. I’d go with a No.

The National anthem was followed by unremarkable, unnecessary commercials. For the matter of fact, taking the enthusiasm around IW into consideration, I would have termed The Godfather unremarkable. Everything was elevated, my life was gonna take the quantum-jump, I would start working in a couple of days, I would start earning money, I would be an independent individual, and Avengers: Infinity War would mark the beginning of this phase. 

I still remeber the frenzy with the Marvel logo. The thunderous response from viewers to God of Thunder piercing storm-breaker through Thanos is still resonating in my years.

What followed that, was unpredictable, both the movie and life. 

Unsettled and anxious are two befitting words to describe what I was going through as I walked out of the auditorium. I knew my life has changed, for good. Perhaps, I knew I’d watch Endgame alone, a year later. I did watch Endgame alone. Perhaps I knew what was coming, life. Perhaps, Infinity War was not the beginning, but an end.

I don’t know.

Ever since Infinity War, I’ve quit 3 jobs, found love for writing, and gained a ton of weight. 

At the moment, we are all confined to homes, hopefully with our loved ones, befuddled about what the future holds. 

We don’t know.

But, life never stops. Every day is a beginning. Every day is an ending. So do these days. Life comes in one pack, and the prevailing times, are only a tiny-teeny part of it. An unremarkable proportion. We will come out of this. We will meet our friends. 

We will watch movies in packed auditoriums. We will cheer together.

We will watch many more infinity wars.

We are all together.

I know that, for sure.

***

The ‘5 of us’ 16 minutes before the screening.

From left to right – Santosh, Bharath, Muthu, Dinesh Adhithya, and Me

After having our minds blown.

Pic Credits: Dinesh Adhithya. Captured on his brand-spanking iPhone X.

To the good old days, and the greater days to come.

The Platform: Social Horror of the Highest Order

Allow me to call this an appreciation letter instead of an essay.

The Platform makes Parasite and Snowpeircer look like full-fledged genre films with a subtle pinch of social commentary. Unlike the aforementioned films, the Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia directorial, written by David Desola & Pedro Rivero is not layered, every character, scene, and dialogue for that matter hit with the strength of a sledgehammer. The film is an unequivocal and straightforward punch to the class politics of our times, and the word ‘hard-hitting’ dilutes the effectiveness of the story. 

The Platform is set in a prison where the two-member cells, are divided vertically across an unknown number of floors. Inmates are shifted to a different floor every month. Some of them are prisoners while others are volunteering in exchange to gain benefits of some form. The titular platform refers to the huge slab that moves from floor to floor carrying food from the above. The opening scene illustrates the food being cooked, as the head-chef oversees it. Following that, the neatly organized platter, comprising a wide variety of dishes begins its downward journey from level one. As the platform moves down, the people on the lower levels consume what the upper ones left. Inmates on the second level eat the leftovers of the first level, those in the third eat the leftovers of the second. See the idea? One is always suppressed by the one above. The film puts us in the shoes of the protagonist, Goreng, an outsider like us. He volunteers to spend six months in exchange of a diploma.

The platform’s path.

Our eyes are Goreng’s. We go through the same thoughts as him. When he initially enters, he is placed on the 48th floor. “48th floor is pretty good”, says his cellmate, Tremagasi, as he draws comparison with the 132nd floor. Tremagasi says food doesn’t reach down there. Like Goreng, we want answers, we are curious to know how the place works, and we do get to know along with him; it’s not a world that we – the Netflix binging band – would like to spend a day at, forget 6 months. There’s no sight of the outside world, both in the prison and the film. The prison is the world. Although it’s not as physically cramped as a prison cell, it certainly posses the eerie atmosphere recurrently associated with supernatural horror films. In this case, social realism is scarier than the supernatural.

Goreng(Above) learning the rules of the prison from Trimagasi(below)

Trimagasi is the embodiment of social stigma. Completely aware of the class politics and significantly bestowing to the wrong side of it, Trimagasi is the antagonist that we all have inside us. Probably the most essential and defining character of the film, Trimagasi flaunts exactly what is wrong with the world. He discerns he is being obnoxious when he urinates on the food, which people below him eat, and he also knows that’s what the ones above did, yet it’s not a matter of his concern. Trimagasi doesn’t try to change the world, his sole purpose is to live; even if it is at the cost of others’ lives. 

The Platform figuratively demonstrates the dog-eat-dog world. It’s all about survival. When Goreng and Trimagasi are shifted to 172nd floor in the second month, the latter doesn’t hesitate to mutilate and consume his cellmate’s flesh despite the evident bonding that we witness. Physical needs over mental. That’s reasonable in the prison. Is Trimagasi the one to blame, in the first place? Can’t these people talk to each other, and reach an agreement, so everyone fills their stomach? When Gerong tries to strike a conversation with the upper-level inmates, he is called a communist. As far as the occurrences and consequences of the prison are concerned, communism seems to be the solution. This is what communism stands for:

A theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.

If the ones ‘above’ keep having more than what they ‘need’, the ones ‘below’ will languish indefinitely. The film nails this point to the wall, time and again till we stop holding the administration responsible for the poor plight of these prisons, and feel that it is indeed the chaos among the prisoners, that’s the reason for their suffering. It’s an arduously impossible answer to whether communism is the answer to end global poverty. Perhaps not. Perhaps yes, but the film makes us think. That’s a brilliant feat.

When closely observed, the film is neither about the prison nor about the food. It’s about how disorganized our world is. The platform is a symbolic representation of power. Sadly, money is the power the world associates with. The food is the currency is the film’s world, and the real money possesses no value in there. Sadly that’s the real world is contrasting. Money is a symbol of power. The one holding it belongs to the higher section of the ‘society’. The Platform is a punch in the world’s gut. The prison is indeed the world in disguise.

THE PLATFORM is now streaming on Netflix.

Watch the trailer of the film here: