QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
This brave and formally imaginative new film from India sees director Siddharth Chauhan combining a vast array of cinematic techniques, styles and genres. Set in ‘Amar Colony’, a dilapidated apartment in an unspecified city, the plot follows the intersecting lives of the six tenants residing there, as they gradually lose sight of the social roles they are supposed to play. Indeed, all characters follow orders, they put on the masks they have been instructed to wear, and they abide by the rules of the game. They do so only during the day, though, for when no one is watching, their yearnings break loose and their behaviours start adorning different colours.
While they all pretend to be ‘morally virtuous’ individuals, they all become involved in one another’s secret seductions in what promptly becomes an elegant fresco of repressed eroticism. Meera, pregnant and bored-to-death, smoking non-stop at her balcony, observes life unfolding beneath her. She gives off the aura of a cunning femme fatale. Aware of her husband’s various affairs, she becomes involved with Mohit, the young neighbour who lives next door. Mohit is a trash collector. His father’s death has left him with the burden of having to take care of his disabled mother, a relentless pest who nags at him without interruption. Although he is quite a grown man, mother and son sleep in the same room: she occupies the bed, naturally, while he sleeps on the floor. They are frequently visited by Meera who invents all sorts of excuses to call on Mohit’s help. He swiftly takes advantage of these visits, venturing out of the room to explore his youthful sexuality in the illicit in-between moments when his sergeant-like mother is not on his back.
The mother-son dynamic is expertly portrayed, the interactions between the two sparking the most comedic scenes of the film. The mother becomes at times so obnoxious that the viewer starts imploring Mohit to strike back at her. When he finally does, the unfolding of their argument is immensely funny. Mohit’s mother seems to think that the bird they keep in a cage is Mohit’s father. One of the film’s best scenes sees Mohit bursting out, shouting ‘This bird is not my father!’.
Chauhan’s evocative camera is on a mission to document the ways in which desire subtly breaks free, permeating through all existing cracks, willingly or unwillingly. Indeed, he opens the crevices in which we all hide the vices, the taboos and the illicit yearnings that we all refuse to admit exist. Whether he brilliantly depicts people hiding while masturbating, adulterous sexual encounters, or feelings of violence on the verge of bursting out, Chauhan seems to be saying that we are the authors of our own misgivings. He paints a very dark portrait of human society, albeit, one that is always candid and greatly amusing. He has also been gifted with the deft hand of a director who can smoothly combine different techniques to convey a cinematic tale. The selection of shots is always extremely varied. While it is true that ‘nothing much happens’, the film is relentlessly entertaining because its language keeps on changing. For instance, characters are framed out of focus in the foreground, cleverly altering the traditional over-the-shoulder shot; or the interesting decision to exclude Meera’s husband from all shots in the beginning of the film.
This film plays with life but also with the ways in which life is represented on the silver screen: the tone swings from social realism to surrealism, from comedy to tragedy, with moments of epic poetry interjecting from time to time, most notably, with smoke-infused dream sequences where black-feathered peasants pose next to goddesses. This playful formal quality gifts Amar Colony with an impressive and original creative energy.
Amar Colony premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.