The Practice Movies

Cinema of cynicism

A mirror Taandav questions the binary of right and wrong at the individual level.  

I find it dangerous that cinema is almost always equated with entertainment in our daily discourse. This unnecessary and unfair pressure is never put on art or literature, but on films. Because they cost much more to make, somehow films are almost obliged to entertain.

It is much easier to find distribution for a film that has sex or violence at its epicentre, than it is for a film that deals in philosophy or politics, that too contemporary politics.

And if it deals with the contentious politics of development and displacement, chances are it’ll make the Indian urban viewer very uncomfortable. And viewer discomfort is a film distributor’s worst nightmare. For the industry then, a film must either comfort or titillate the viewer, or allow the viewer an escape from reality to be considered a safe investment.

I have trouble accepting the status quo. I choose to be cynical.

Cynicism to me is a questioning of things as we have come to accept them. It is not the same as pessimism. Cynicism, in fact, is intrinsically optimistic. It helps hold up a mirror only so we can wonder how messed up that reflection is, so we can choose to change the way things are.

My first short film, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro, questioned our apathy to other creatures who have become merely resources to us humans. Animals, birds and plants are either food, fuel or medicine. We hardly accord them a consciousness, assuming instead that we are superior in all respects. There is a word for this view of the world—anthropocentrism. And this first short film was cynical of it.

Moving on

The second short, El’ayichi, questioned our awe/ fear/ ignorance of death. It was cynical of ‘moving on’ being an accepted, simplistic aftermath of death.

Here, both the one left living, as well as the one who departed, are having trouble ‘moving on’, and question their individual states of being.

El’ayichi is a backhanded ode to death. What is considered the end of all things as we know them, is a possible beginning to what could be an eternal state of stasis. It seeks to reinterpret the unknown as mostly misunderstood; the departed as merely displaced; and the afterlife to be as mundane in its dailyness as life itself.

Agli Baar is cynical of development. Development in this modern urban paradigm has mostly come to serve those who can afford it, and is mostly built on the graves of those who can’t.

‘…And then they came for me,’ from the famous poem by Martin Niemöller was the underlying theme of this film. Slum-demolition, forced displacement, the targeting of minorities, the risks of being an activist in an increasingly authoritarian world, the testing of the limits of non-violent protest in the face of extreme violence, the apathy of the state, the apathy of the individual, the blindness of justice, and the impotence of the law: we’ve tried to bring them all together here. They’re all grassroot issues we grapple with regardless of where we reside and who we are.

The fourth short, Absent, is cynical of justice. An institutional implementation of the law often sees right and wrong in broad brush strokes, which often obliterates the truth/ desperation/ helplessness of the individual. The film tries to question collective morality, and, hopefully, throws up a debate around the value of treasuring an individual morality.

Society vs individual

What weighs more: a human’s right to his/ her life, or a social sense of justice? Is death-for-death fair trade? Is society greater than the sum of its many individuals? Why is it that when an individual metes out death, it is murder, but when a social institution metes out death, it is punishment? Humans are merely one of Earth’s many species. Then how did humanity become a synonym for compassion? Anthropocentrism, again.

My fifth short film, Taandav, questions the binary of right and wrong at the individual level. We wanted to make the viewer wonder if such decisions—to take the money or not, to pay the donation or not, to pull out the gun or not, to fly off the handle or not—are easily slottable into right and wrong. Or if the real answer lies in the middle somewhere, in all those thousands of shades between right at one extremity and wrong at the other.

Taandav also attempts to question order. Who implements order? And for whom? Is the manic, loud, mind-numbing celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi chaos? Or is a pressurised individual’s response to that chaos, chaos? Is anger or misunderstanding or selfishness not some form of violence? Why is only a drawn gun seen as violence?

Taandav finally tries to question freedom. The salaried authority figure entrusted with the task of protecting our individual freedom in this democratic institution might be experiencing the least freedom of us all. How and where will this be accounted for?

Macro and micro

I will not deny that there is a reservation in my cinema. I try to reserve my films for the voiceless, those who have little or no representation in the mainstream: be it storytelling, the news, or daily discourse. I like exploring the larger questions that trouble me through stories of voiceless, marginalised individuals (human, beast or ghost). The friction between the macro and the micro this causes, always throws up something dramatic.

By making the films I do, I try to find resonance of my own fights, furies, frustrations, struggles and desperations in those of my protagonists’.

The cynicism in my films then is my protest. I don’t have the perseverance of an activist. I don’t have the stamina of a rebel. I don’t possess all the qualities of a leader. I don’t have the patience required of an environmentalist. But I would like to be all of those things on most days. So I channelise my protest through my films. It helps that I work in a medium where money decides most things. It is so heartbreaking that the cynicism flows unhindered.

The author is director of award-winning short film Taandav. His cynical feature, Ajji, is out this year.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 4:58:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/cinema-of-cynicism/article18582671.ece

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