The novel coronavirus-induced lockdown has sent the whole world to a standstill with the operationalization of only the essential affairs, but, in all its positivity, a few artists have turned the situation on itself by not seeing it as an impediment to their flow of creativity.
These artists have utilized the digital medium to spread a positive message, to make people aware, introspect and re-introspect, think and question or tell personal stories from their backyard in these desperate times of yearning for freedom and solidarity. Their collective interest in contributing towards a positive social outlook or lending a helping land for the greater cause of humanity has found expression in the short films they have shot and edited remotely with whatever resources at disposal and released from their home during the pandemic.
Coinciding with the abnormal increase in the time spent looking at the screen or the never decreasing demand for entertainment of a binge-watching generation, these short films deal with a wide range of issues from revolving around and about the pandemic to the random blues and hues of lockdown and life.
As with the case with every film made during the lockdown, they are replete with continuity errors, dodgy editing and all kinds of characteristics considered injurious for cinematic expression but the focus here is their content which acknowledges the personal and difficult social realities of the present.
The most creative of the lot, ‘Conditions Apply’ by Boloram Das and Tina Bhatia is about a young married couple living together separately after a small and natural point of friction that is a part of bittersweet household dynamics in the sense that they bring people closer. In this no dialogue short, the focus is on a husband and a wife who are confined indoors and like everyone else trying to fit into the new way of living with work from home and Netflix – the only problem – a heated argument before Day 1 following which there has been no verbal communication with each other. The reverberation plays like voices in his head and when the lockdown is officially declared she is clearly the most frustrated one. They slept without each other that night and soon enough each started attending only to their personal needs, like cooking for one self while the other satisfies hunger with a plateful of noodles. There is a comic tone in every scene which works as a jovial mood up lifter while the seriousness of the reality, the two characters living under, speaks straight to our conscience. They have their egoistic distance from each other maintained while they also re-connect through nostalgic exchanges and mutual affection. It is a timely reminder for us of the power of memories and the importance of longing for and caring for one another. It is the peace we find in being with each other and our emotional connect which extends beyond barriers that will win over the depressed and distressed times. It is the joyful memories of our past and of a world we shared and rejoiced that should lead our way to brighter days ahead.
Arindam Barooah’s ‘I am We’ and Akash Deep’s ‘The End is Near’ exposes the rudimentary nature of their creation with characters communicating through video calls. These two short films confront us with some immediate and existential questions related and relevant to the pandemic. In ‘I am We’, a family member of a patient, a victim of racial discrimination, student, artist, journalist, grandmother, doctor, police official, daily wage earner, all narrate their personal experiences and first-hand accounts of their individual struggles. Exploring the blatant racism, social stigma, religious intolerance and the apprehensions and worries of generation whose future is hanging in the balance as an outcome and result of the pandemic, it points the finger at us while seeking to question who is the bitter foe and towards what should we direct or worries at – the virus or us? Showcasing their versatile skills, the actors recording themselves in ‘The End is Near’ plays everyone from Indian boys crying passionately on TikTok and fake Samaritans to comic fortune teller and social media influencer in the spirit of a parody. But hell is freezing over and the world is ending as the humor deftly turns towards the dark and the deranged. The tension is evenly maintained as the characters gradually suffer an erosion of their psychologically stable self while suggesting the emotional vulnerability of an imposed and extended isolation. Even the most ardent supporter of the lockdown later breaks down at the cost of his sanity.
The darker side of the lockdown is also explored in Bijit Nath’s ‘Asha’ which makes us witnesses to a family struggling to put food on the table. The family of a daily wage worker with an ill bed-ridden patriarch, a child who is at the peak of innocence and a worried mother possibly cooking their last meal under the dizzy flame of a kerosene lamp juxtaposes the subaltern reality with privileged dreams consequentially raising concerns for the helpless voices which exist in fragments of our liberal imaginations. In the world of façade, hunger is the only truth and the ubiquitous safety norms, a contradiction to subjectivity. Staying home is not the answer to their state of being safe.
The very essential question of how hunger pose even bigger threat than a virus is also raised in ‘Lockdown Dairy’, a two-part short series conceptualized by Bhupen Kalita and Deep Jyoti Kalita which surprisingly follows a horror template. It follows the story of a young man who sets out to offer ‘cooked food’ to a friend’s household enduring hard times but takes a graveyard shortcut which may or may not turn out to be the wisest step taken for him. A reflection of our personal fear in the most unusual way it represents unfathomable loss and grief and coping up with it without any fulfilling sense of closure. The emotional weight of the family of a migrant worker left alone with no one to hold onto hits close to home and reveals what we are more afraid of. It is neither about the deadly characteristics of a ghost nor how much anxiety it generates but what these other worldly beings represent – something that we call all identify with.
Both ‘Asha’ and ‘Lockdown Dairy’ ask a very fundamental question underneath, i.e., if the benefits of the state subsidies and grants are going straight to the cause. The messaging is blatant but the empathy resonated is strong.
Two short films, ‘Can I Ask Something’ and ‘Nisukoni’ by Gargee Dutta and Taralli Sharma respectively, utilizes the child’s gaze to tread a fine line between naivety and the grimness of the situation at hand. In ‘Can I Ask Something’, Dhoon, a curious seven-year-old, apparently finds himself in new companionship with birds and dogs as everything mechanical fails to make sense of his questions. He pays little regard to his homework assigned through online classes like clockwork to enjoy nature which is in its full glory.
‘Nisukoni’ has a heartbreaking moment when a child, living with his grandmother away from his parents, asks his father amidst the lockdown – when he might be coming back – for which the father has no answer. Putting forth the sudden changes in our lives it expresses a deep-seated sadness with something so sincerely innocent and also sorrowfully disconcerting. The two children who are eager to see the world in all its beauty is an image of a beating heart we all carry.
In contrast to everything mentioned, ‘Starved’ by Pranab Bharali, ‘Lockdown Chef’ by Sourav Baishya and ‘Deu Loga Suwali’ by Santanu Dutta which poke fun at the lockdown carry a great appeal as stress-busters. A very leisure take on the chaos and confusion resulting from the disruptions caused by everything grinding to a halt, ‘Starved’ is the story of three roommates having to make do under the new terms of work from home and stay-at-home. ‘Lockdown Chef’ on the other hand blends humor and horror to side splitting results. Along the same lines, the one joke premise of ‘Deu Loga Suwali’ too does not fail to make people laugh – the real point of all the three shorts. They imitate the anxiety and insecurity to comic reactions while also being conscious of the larger issues in a cleverly upfront way.
A reminder of the reality and a lively depiction of the unremitting frustrations and depression through some thoughtful series of events, these short films made during the pandemic are about a journey of uncertainty and empathy and confronting a question that is broadly universal and also individual. While many turn to the visual medium for a sense of comfort, closure, escapism and hope these representations of a tragedy that befalls us today will also help keep time recorded for posterity.