IFFI 2019 Day 5: Of love and tolerance
The columnist writes about his experiences of Day 5 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2019 in Goa
Contrary to popular perception, film festivals aren’t always about the excitement of catching films ahead of their commercial release. Among the pleasures of being at one is getting to revisit your favourites in the theatre again. I’m already spending sleepless nights in anticipation of The Godfather that is scheduled to play towards the end of this year’s IFFI. Also, with the increasing number of releases every year, it’s become harder and harder to catch every good release, leading to some slipping through the cracks. For instance, I’d missed Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s House Owner which came out earlier this year to good reception. IFFI, Goa, on day 5, helped me make amends. It was part of a double bill, and got preceded by a short film called Maya starring Kirti Kulhari. The films together made for a searing emotional experience.
It’s hard to miss why both films got paired together. Both are emotional films, of a female caretaker, and how much the monotonous business of caretaking takes out of them. Maya, being a short, naturally isn’t able to delve into this in as much detail as House owner, but still makes for a satisfying emotional experience. Both also talk of love—different types of love—and what an underrated component of it, tolerance is. The main women of both films do their damndest to be better than the incredible persons they already are. Maya realises she has to do better when she realises the toll her occasional outbursts take on her mother. In House Owner, Radha (a terrific Sriranjani) cannot suppress the occasional outburst—and you totally understand this—but in her limitless empathy, is able to quickly understand that her husband is a victim himself (of Alzheimer’s). Normal service resumes pretty instantly, as she turns into a worker bee again—and with no evidence of any regret.
The films show you how much of caring is almost unthinking repetition. In the case of Radha, it’s heroic how much she puts up with, knowing that there will be no rewards, or in the case of her husband, Vasudevan, no lucid moments in which he will recognise her sacrifice. Even the one rewarding moment that comes by her—when he begins dancing with her, imagining her to be a person she once was—gets cruelly snatched from her, including any enjoyment she may have wanted to store away in her mind. The repetition in her caring isn’t just in her action. It’s in having to say the same things over and over again; it’s in having to hear the same things over and over again, including the song he romantically sang for her dozens of summers ago. Her caring is also a seeming consequence of her gratitude for a life lived with him, and this is why the contrasting of the present with the past isn’t just a screenplay gimmick in House Owner. It’s the very foundation for why Radha does what she does.
Films like Maya and House Owner remind you of the importance of love, by showing you how, sometimes, love is simply... duty that's beyond aspects like shame and humiliation. Maya doesn’t bat a lid about cleaning her mother’s urine. When Radha sees the toilet overflowing with yellow liquid that spills into the hall, she’s scampering not because she is disgusted, but because she wants to make sure her husband is safe. Curiously, one ends on a hopeful note, while the other is a tragedy. Like in that final scene in Maya, you are crying one moment in helplessness, and you are suddenly laughing in joy. If that isn’t an accurate depiction of the duality of love and pain…