Every story tells a picture

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 08, 2017
Three in one: Set in Kerala’s Kottayam district, the 130-minute film fuses three short stories by Malayalam writer S Hareesh into a cohesive narrative

Three in one: Set in Kerala’s Kottayam district, the 130-minute film fuses three short stories by Malayalam writer S Hareesh into a cohesive narrative

The many diegeses in Sanju Surendran’s Aedan (Garden of Desire), to be screened at the ongoing IFFK in Thiruvananthapuram, challenge our ability to see, hear and comprehend

Reality often goes beyond the real. Artists know this for a fact. Shut your eyes and see, James Joyce has urged. In Sanju Surendran’s debut feature, Aedan (Garden of Desire), a young writer of ‘fantasy stuff’ snappily disagrees when an old man callously brands ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’ a tale of fantasy. “Those are real incidents,” the writer ripostes with conviction. Aedan, which fuses three short stories by Malayalam writer S Hareesh into a cohesive narrative, has many such moments where the visuals sweetly hoodwink the viewers’ premeditated sense of judgement.

The 130-minute film demands a new viewing experience. Of course, you may enjoy Aedan even with your eyes shut. The impeccably mixed sounds tell you a story of their own while the visuals — incredibly — tell another. And when the sounds and visuals merge, another story surfaces. Such experience is rare in Indian cinema, even among the so-called art-house productions. Theoretically speaking, Aedan scans the rather mundane life and career of Hari (Abhilash Nair), who reminds me of Eugène Ionesco’s Amédée, and his friendship with Peter Sir (George Kurian), a ‘retired’ upper-middle class Christian schoolteacher. Both live in Kerala’s lush, green Kottayam. But their story gets enmeshed in a series of other stories and their narratives cross paths with those of others, prompting the viewer to take a multidimensional approach. In other words, there is no single story.

Every story, Aedan declares, is an amalgam of many other stories — much like every form of life. For any measure, Aedan is not a pleasant cinematic experience. Right from the first shot — where a mother forces her son to bury newborn puppies alive — and till the hallucinatory, hyperreal climax, the film packs several punches. And Surendran achieves this suitably unnatural feat by forsaking control of the many lives he tracks in the film. He lets them live their own peculiar realities, go through surprising transformations (like the mighty goon who gives up his bad life overnight, thanks to a ‘curious’ friendship). Such transformations do surprise us. But what shocks us, later, is the fact that we have found ourselves in complete agreement with the seemingly bizarre, erroneous and translucent logic behind these changes. How else can you explain a young man trying to woo his friend when they are on a long, winding journey home carrying her father’s corpse?

Aedan has many moments which demand unusual employment of psychoanalysis to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. Surendran handles ‘death’ with a deeply philosophical wit. He lets his characters literally play with it, like the scene where Hari and Peter play the strange game of obit cards. Death is not just a character in Aedan, it becomes a design of its own, chaotically engulfing almost all characters, disturbing the viewer in more ways than one, only to create a sense of existential uneasiness that can help us introspect our own ideas of ‘living’ and ‘dying’. Aedan forces the dead, the living, time, nature and even the geography to join hands to create an enchantingly disturbing work of art.

Surendran, an alumnus of Pune’s Film and Television Institute (FTII), has dedicated the film to Mani Kaul, whom he considers his guru. But Aedan is closer to the school of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, especially if you consider how Surendran composes shots and curates the scenes, and the importance given to lighting. But when Surendran experiments with repeat shots with subtle changes (a deliberate attempt to interfere in the cinematic experience of the viewer, to creatively disturb his preset patterns of negotiating a film), he stands closer to Kaul, whose Uski Roti is one of the most important experiments in Indian cinema.

Aedan features immaculate night sequences, shot by Manesh Madhavan, also an FTII alumnus, who handled the camera for Surendran’s national award-winning documentary on Koodiyattam exponent Kapila Venu. Madhavan’s camera captures the eerily lyrical beauty of the nights in the upper Kuttanadu region of Kottayam. Aedan is produced by Murali Mattummal of Ronak Media Services Mumbai and is edited by Sreya Chatterjee. Sound designers Godly Timo Koshy, Pramod Thomas and Ajayan Adat have done an impressive job in keeping the surreal character of the film flawless and flowing. “In fact, I haven’t made any deliberate attempt to make the film hyperreal. On the contrary, I wanted it to be very real,” Surendran tells BL ink. “I place a macro lens to reality and try to get to the finer details by getting closer and closer to my subjects and then the images that emerge seem surreal.” Aedan, despite negligible blemishes, is a brutally honest cinematic experience. It is personal and political. It is good cinema.

Published on December 08, 2017

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