THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT ALL : on influential short films DEVI, SIBLINGS and Oscar winning HAIR LOVE.

Short films have their conventional purpose neatly cut out, that is to present a condensed view of the world in a nifty runtime of less than thirty minutes, sometimes even less. But in a creative landscape of rampant mutation and chain reactions, the best among this lot pack in a punch by showcasing the most meaningful aspects of a particular moment that has the singular power to define us almost collectively.

With quality of the material at its peak, three films from the current quarter express themselves beautifully by corralling that rare force of nature : storytelling vis a vis urgent social representation of issues. So here they are, in no particular order.

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DEVI (2020)

A group of women belonging to diverse social stratas, age groups and mindsets are huddled together in a room that is tastefully decorated and yet brims with claustrophia, chaos and the unsaid. We feel it is a secret bunker for women and some distressing siren call or back history is the common thread among them. Or maybe it’s a women’s organisation, a conference inclusive of the poorest, the middle class and an educated upper crust , all assembled in this singular space though the seating positions cleverly posits the heirarchy . Tensions, class differences and uneasy humours run amongst them all. Something truly seems amiss and unnatural.

Then facts tumble out and the mood is not one of secrecy anymore as much as one of shared experiences. Each female represents her own ordeal by dint of the males who did them wrong vis a vis their age group, personal affiliation as well as the way they all physically hurt them. From a mute girl to an elderly lady, nobody was spared or ever is in this hegemonic society where truth takes the shape of unholy statistics and is lost too often between the cracks.

DEVI (Goddess) is powerful as it shows how patriarchal values were responsible for bringing these women at the same location and the burden of their individual truths are being broadcast for the larger collective of analysing our rampant brush with sexism and sexual politics, at every possible social juncture.

The intervention -style structure of the thirteen minutes has a twist that has the capacity of haunting us solely because it hits home. Boasting of an excellent ensemble with the likes of superstar Kajol, Neena Kulkarni, Neha Dhupia, Mukta Barve and Shruti Haasan joining younger performers like Yashaswini Dayama and Shivani Raghuvanshi besides Sandhya Mhatre and Rama Joshi, it is a highlight from director Priyanka Banerjee for 2020, with the final shot of a child among them reflecting ground realities cutting across timelines. It’s a must watch.

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SIBLINGS (2019)

This Sheetal Menon written and directed short is comparatively longer in length, clocking in at 32 minutes and stars her and Shivani Tanksale as the titular siblings who have, over the course of almost two years, undergone a drastic personal turnaround in the wake of their father’s comatose state and something deeply fraught has replaced their bonds of affection, for each other and even for themselves , especially when it punctures their respective equations with the men in their lives.

The conceit here is to be absolutely clued in to realism by way of their present status as occupiers of an educated middle class and single individuals managing the expensive healthcare , day to day affairs of home and the most implosive pressure of living in the big city . Sustaining their emotional stability is a worn-out task they must uphold but then there come pieces of conversation with workplace colleagues and partners where something snaps and this spills over to ugly spats between the sisters , tinged with expectations and regrets that hurt like only familial affiliations can. Serrated words are like loaded guns then and the expressions carrying their weight are unforgiving. It makes us wonder if things said in the heat of the moment actually come from the heart or are articulated from an unpredictable moral space .

Hence the heartbreak of seeing their father in a vegetative state is equally tipped with the mounting pressure of sliding into a mental point of frustration . Humans are flawed individuals and the siblings self-flagellate to take stock of the mundane continuum of their daily dealings. We feel every emotional beat here, the sacrifices, selflessness, haunting sense of days passing by without closure or an alternative resolve.

Does it then pay to be selfish ? How many young people would even put their careers and personal lives at stake to care for a loved one battling a liminal state between impaired consciousness and death? Aren’t women often the ones who take the onus of being caretakers of the elderly? Is anyone willing to adjust to their routines and challenges, given the situation? These timeless questions float in the atmosphere of truth that is created in SIBLINGS aided by the pitch perfect performances while the characterisation of the grandmother(Mohini KewalRamani) as the mute witness to the siblings’ internal suffering is representative of the thousand impulses derived from our urban struggles.

However, this is about love and that tenacity guides the tender conclusion, evoking the continuation of lives after a silent tragedy. It’s the kind of silence that’s as pronounced as the drone of the air conditioner in the room .

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HAIR LOVE (2019)

Ever since I watched this heartwarming six minute animated short that kept popping up on my radar, I knew it in my heart that it will most definitely clinch an animated short Oscar and when it did, I knew it will be remembered for a long time to come. That’s just the case with instinct and love for something this Innocent, Pure and inclusive of something as basic as our hair styles tied in with our cultural forebears.

The simple tale of a girl trying to style her natural hair in the way her mother did and her father’s attempts to honour her wish is all around charming, positing the most positive spin on family and memories being a storehouse of our best days and often greatest personal attributes.

It’s poignant and the omnipresence of the mother( Issa Rae) and her own acceptance of a bald pate in the wake of cancer adds another layer to it. Kudos to Ms. Karen Rupert Toliver and Mr. Matthew Cherry for being the heart and soul behind HAIR LOVE. It’s a must watch in these dark times of hopelessness.

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