Mumbai Musings: Day 2 - Two different women, two similar problems
The columnist writes about Day 2 of the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival
It’s popularly assumed that the most correct version of the film is the one conceived by its maker. On first appearance, it seems like a fairly obvious assessment. The metaphors planted, the symbols used, the subtext added... Who’d know all this better than the person who made the film? Isn’t that why many critics look for approval from them, like clever students from their lecturer? Did I get it right? Have I uncovered all your layers? There is an argument, however, to be made that when a film gets released, suddenly, multiple versions of it come to life. It’s no longer just the one film as envisioned by its director. As many versions of the film emerge as the number of people who have seen it. In my eyes, the film becomes something. In your eyes, it becomes something else. This is only natural, for our responses and our understanding of each film is shaped by our world views, experiences, and sometimes, fascinatingly, even our mood.
Aditya Sengupta, the director of the incredibly original — and visually breathtaking — Jonaki, that I caught on Saturday, is seemingly a big believer of the latter school of thought. He said as much during the after-screening conversation with the audience, when a zealous viewer wanted him to explain what he really meant with certain ambiguous scenes that lend themselves to multiple interpretations. There’s little background music in the film — of the conventional variety anyway; there’s a lot of surreal imagery; and an argument could be made for how some recurrent objects in the film — the orange, the origami bird — could be metaphors. So, naturally, there was curiosity over what they all meant. This is why for months after the release of Inception, people kept asking Nolan what that spinning top at the end meant. When prodded to elaborate, Aditya Sengupta, however, refused to bite. “I wouldn’t want to spoil your experience by explaining,” he said. In other words, he doesn’t want to infringe on the film in your head with the one in his. “How you experience a film is a reflection of who you are,” he said.
Jonaki’s an intensely personal film; it is the director’s response to the passing away of his grandmother and the subsequent strange dreams he began having. The story of his grandmother — more specifically, the story, as he was told by her — is shown in a series of haphazard, surreal snapshots of her life. It’s about many things, including a bad marriage. The other film I caught on the day — Colette, which has a superlative performance by Keira Knightley — is also about a bad marriage, among other things. It’s chiefly about a woman coming to terms with her identity, a woman learning to live life on her own terms. And if you’re a woman in the 1900s, you didn’t get to do that so easily. It’s a problem even today, and it’s fascinating how stories about people who lived a hundred years ago — like Colette —can offer cathartic answers to the problems of today.
Day 2 of MAMI was, for me, about two films about two very different women, and yet, on some level, those who grappled with some very similar issues.