Wednesday, 17 February 2010

More seek than hide: the simple riddles of Vihir

The guy in green played: Nachiket
The guy in white played: Samya
The small girl played: Soni
The man in black: Umesh Kulkarni (director)
The man in white churidaar: Girish Kulkarni (producer and co-script writer).

More seek than hide: the simple riddles of Vihir

Writing a review or even a critical note on Vihir is a daunting task for two reasons: one, the film has such a rich polyphonic repertoire that it is almost impossible for an untrained reviewer like me to do any justice to the film, and second, it has already been brilliantly written about by Shekhar Deshpande on The Berlinale 2010 screening has also been reported there . Therefore, rather than a standard review that recounts the basic storyline, this note tries to raise certain issues related to the thematics of the film.

In teh post-screening interaction, the first question thrown at Umesh Kulkarni, the director of the movie, was about the fate of Nachiket. The film I guess left a section of audience puzzled: did he really die or not? Kulkarni’s answer was simple; the intention, he said, was to leave the question vague, which means that although death is a form of finality, the understanding of it need not be certain. In fact it is hardly ever so. However, some do get caught up in chasing not only ‘life’ but also ‘death’, and Samya was one such character. Out of his immense affection, bonding, love and respect for his Nachchada, Samya couldn’t bear the loss of Nachiket. And here, from the point of view of Samya, I would insist on maintaining the difference between ‘death’ and ‘loss’ which at the emotional level could mean the same but at the level on which Samya was struggling to find Nachiket meant differently. Nachiket’s disappearance was preceded by a long preface: he very intimately shared his thoughts with Samya and came to the resolution that he will run away, most probably by a train. And this angered and peeved Samya who was expecting him to come to Pune for his college studies. Given his skill of putting high philosophy in the most effusive and simple manner Nachiket in his own mind might have meant something completely different (perhaps signifying to freedom and liberation through the allegory of 'running away'), but for Samya, very probably, it appeared as a worldly act of an adolescent. Thus the trope of ‘death’ and ‘loss’ worked on two different registers, at least until the time when Samya himself undertook the journey to discover Nachiket. In this regard, Kulkarni couldn’t be more correct when he said that the film is about how Samya finds Nachiket.

Nachiket’s restlessness with the world started at the spatial site of domesticity. Although in Shekhar Deshpande’s opinion the director's brilliance lies in what he has done with time (this is used just for reflecting back on the film and ought not to be construed as criticism), I think it’s the portrayal of space that marks Kulkarni's excellence. Broadly, the film revolves around four spaces: the village home, the Pune flat, the swimming pool, and the open space (both in Nachiket’s village and also during Samya’s journey). The first three in paradoxically varying ways are sites of disassociation: the closed interiors, argued Kulkarni, were deliberately used to create an effect of claustrophobic space. The camera moved between the interior dark corners of these spaces producing a synchrony with the interiorisation of the self – first of Nachiket and later of Samya. While Nachiket took recourse to open fields, haystacks and riversides, Samya’s movement, unfortunately, was restricted between two claustrophobic spaces: his home where the leaking water from the roof accumulating in a tin bowl symbolised his growing restlessness, and the swimming pool, where the water reminded him of the well (Vihir) which supposedly had the dead body of Nachiket. It is no surprise then that the director chose to liberate Samya on the day when Ganesh idols were being immersed in the water.

Samya in his diary entries often pleaded Nachiket to at least once come to him and narrate what happened to him, to tell him his present whereabouts. But as Nachiket did not come, the only recourse was that Samya seeks him out. And this is the last part of the movie which portrays an aimless journey of a lost soul in a train, lorry, and bus and so on until he meets a wise shepherd (whose character reminded me of Herman Hesse’s Sidhartha). For the first time after his flight from home, Samya in the company of the old man appeared at peace with himself and it became inevitable that he will soon find Nachiket. That moment of realisation, as was expected, has also been left vague in the movie. Amidst the melody of the Dhangar folksongs (and not providing the subtitles was a deliberate choice of the director) Samya sleeps into the lap of the old man, only to awaken with the realisation that he has found Nachiket. Sounds and not words became crucial. He went to the well and jumped into the water to feel that he is swimming with Nachiket. Conventionally, the film should have ended there, but as Kulkarni later explained, he wanted to end the movie not at this note but at the onward journey. The last frame showed the bus leaving the village. Samya’s earlier movement between the spaces now became transcendental as he was now able to carry Nachiket with him.

In this depiction, what struck me was the technique of story-telling, with which I would like to end this brief note. Nachiket’s persistent effort to attain invisibility in the realm of visible was marvellously captured by the game of hide and seek, which means that he did not defy adolescence but re-created itself for his own experimental quest. The second technique was the use of riddles that Soni (Samya’s sister) kept throwing at everyone. At every crucial junction, the narrative moved ahead with the use of the riddle but it was pleasing to see the post-screening interaction ending with a riddle thrown at the audience. She asked: There is an elephant and there are lots of sweets and bananas in front of him but he is not touching them, why? And she explained that there could be three answers: one, it’s a plastic elephant; second, the sweets and bananas are made of plastic; and third, the elephant is diabetic.

A truly pleasing note to end watching a lovely film!

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