Biweekly Binge: Soundless Dance - A voice for the soundless trauma
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week it is Soundless Dance
Pradeepan Raveendran's Soundless Dance (Nisabda Nadanam) opens with footage of rallies in France from early 2009, Tamils registering their voice against the state's genocide in Sri Lanka as the civil war lasting almost three decades reaches a point of no return. The sounds we hear with these visuals - blasts and explosions - seem to be coming from northern Sri Lanka. Soundless Dance, like its protagonist, exists in multiple personalities, with one leg in each place. The film immediately cuts to Siva (Patrick Balaraj Yogarajan), already in France but trying to obtain a visa to live legally. His presence in the country might be physical but he is drawing breath for a soul wandering back home when alone, which is often in a foreign country. Pradeepan shows him crossing the streets of Paris alone, walking through the woods lost and sitting by himself in the train. We catch a reflection of Siva on the train's window, an image of him that is breathing and surviving elsewhere. He lives a double life - endless expenses for immigration lawyers, meeting acquaintances and also living a nightmare in Sri Lanka with no information on the whereabouts of his parents and sister, weak telecommunications, and tracking the ravages of the war on the Internet, as northern and eastern Sri Lanka become nooks of fire and death when one by one the state's flag goes up like pins on the grounds where he grew up. He washes dishes in a restaurant and is reluctant to learn more on the job as if that would make his displacement permanent and his disconnect real. He is not wrong.
Written by Pradeepan and Jean Anouilh, Soundless Dance switches between multiple narratives. One of them observes Siva in France, his loss at finding a story to obtain a visa. "That's what everyone will say, right?" he asks a lawyer. "That they worked for the Tigers, they were captured and tortured by the army. How will mine be any different?" The lawyer assures him that some parts can be rewritten, but that's how everybody obtains a legal presence in the country.
Siva's real story is different, forming the other narrative strand. His parents force him to get out of the country with the help of a reputed broker so that he can take care of their debts and their livelihood once the war breaks out, which could be any moment. This story is what eats at Siva in France, that he is someone who found a way out, the guilt slashing his soul as smooth as the meat slicer he is using in the restaurant. His mother asks him to make a good decision without thinking (yosikkama nalla mudiva sollu), coaxing him to escape for their sake. Back home, we see a young Siva walk past a poster of Maveerar Naal (the remembrance day for LTTE observed on the death anniversary of its first cadre), on his way to meet a friend. The friend is one of the Tigers and Siva comes across as naive in front of him. The friend is far more cynical and belligerent in his worldview, he bursts out when Siva suggests that it is rather peaceful now. He says that negotiations for peace and peace are two different things - the negotiations became possible only because the Tamils are armed. He minces no words when he tells Siva off for being another Tamil who has ditched the movement.
A divided island's separatist movement also has its own divided philosophies. Pradeepan's film documents that too when two diaspora Tamils watching the repercussions of the events in the first half of 2009 on a news channel start warring about their ideologies, one of them hyper-passionate in his support of the Tigers and the need to push their agenda on the international stage and the other wanting to wash the taint of LTTE off the diaspora because they are terrorists. The former swears at the latter referring to him as someone with "eastern mentality." As this argument goes on, Siva breaks down in the next room, his hand lashing at a closed window, crying, as if he is reaching out to someone in need of help. War and dystopia, as real as they are, find home in the mystical and surreal. This was used to great effect in Suba Sivakumaran's House of My Fathers, a mythical piece symptomatic of the civil war. Soundless Dance too descends into a surrealist space when Siva pins himself in the eye of the storm, unable to come to terms with his place in the world. We don't hear a sound from his face. Even his trauma is stripped of voice.
(Soundless Dance is available as VOD at http://www.exilimage.com from January 8)