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Silent actions

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 17, 2017

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We go to the private screening of Govind Nihalani’s new film, Thi Ani Itter, at the Nehru Planetarium Basement Auditorium, Mumbai. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. There are five of us: my cousin, her husband, his cousin, Bins and me. The planetarium entrance is swarming with schoolchildren. They shriek like demented sparrows while their teachers try to control them. A friendly golden retriever sniffs for bombs. Security personnel look on with patient expressions.

Downstairs, all is calm. The director is waiting for us. He seems slightly tense: it’s only the film’s second-ever screening. Bins whispers to me, “I hope you’re feeling REALLY guilty.” I had tried to wriggle out of the screening because, of late, I’ve avoided attending performances of my work. But this is an adaptation of Lights Out, not the play itself. The screenplay was written by Shanta Gokhale. And besides, Govind is a buddy. That should have been reason enough to accept the invitation. “Yes,” I whisper back to Bins. “I am a total twit.”

We are joined by a handful of friends and family who have very fondly agreed to come, including a New York-based college friend whom I haven’t met for 40 years. The film is in Marathi with English subtitles. The English title is She and the Others. We settle into the dinky 60-seat preview auditorium.

Bins wonders out aloud, “Should we stand and sing the national anthem?” The rest of us hush him. Lights dim, the film begins. A mother and two bouncy little girls return from a birthday party. They enter the lift to their home when they’re joined by a creepy man...

The movie extends the tight boundaries of the play by including fresh motivations and new angles. Sonali Kulkarni is the nervous wife and mother Naina, Subodh Bhave is her husband Anirudh, and Suman Patel is their sprightly, talkative maid. They are joined by four others, including an attractive young couple. The evening begins with a celebration of the release of Naina’s CD of ghazals. The light, party atmosphere darkens swiftly however when a woman’s screams from a next-door semi-constructed building begin to penetrate the neat, suburban apartment.

The central issue of the play and the film is whether or not should we intervene when we see crime being committed. In the play, the discussion between the characters never goes beyond abstract intentions. In the film, events tip over into action. The threat of retaliation from the perpetrators is followed through; the crime is videotaped on a cellphone; the police are called in; the neighbours are questioned. And yet, as in the play, in all the mess of conflicting aims and intentions, the victim is ploughed under. The film ends on a note of disturbing uncertainty.

The performances are strong and the pace picks up quickly, especially after the half-way mark. The spicy, twanging sounds of Marathi are a pleasure to listen to. We all warmly congratulate Govind on the way out and then, for the rest of the afternoon, spilling over into the next day, we talk about the issues and ideas that have been released in the course of the film’s 100 minutes. The film’s tag line is: Silence Is Not An Option. “Yes,” says Bins in conclusion. “That’s the main point.”

Manjula Padmanabhan , author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US

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Published on February 17, 2017
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