Filmmaker Arindam Barooah’s level of craft has surely evolved since he made his first short film back in 2016. In his latest short film, ‘Naoka’ (to be illusions!! dying and lies!!), written by Indranil Gayan, Barooah displays some of his finest capabilities as a visual storyteller.
‘Naoka’ is a story is about two people, a young boy and a girl who are lost in the tranquillity of the night. Their identities and relationship are not disclosed but we can safely assume that they could possibly be partners in each other’s aid. Everything else but them staring into the nothingness is a muted affair.
Amid the serene stillness of the night, the elusive portrayal of these two characters gets engaged in the existential thought of being which is explored through references to Kafka, Beethoven and Salvador Dali, respectively, in every subsequent part of this short film with three chapters.
The protagonist in ‘Naoka’ mentions Kafka in one instance and then on the other, he starts referring to himself as Kafka. I use the word ‘elusive’ here because the film constantly plays with such notions of reality and illusion to the extent that thin line between them immediately blurs. This makes this slow paced and absurdly staged drama certainly not the most thankful film to write a review for. And at the same time, it is this incomprehensibility of the film which also fascinates me.
These lonely spirits on screen also have a strange equation between them. If one is Kafka, the other starts responding to the name – Felice. In a narrative that is constructed with absolute patience and detail, their exchanges implicitly allude to the inherent loneliness, the fragility of human life and a certain kind of imperfection that the world is. The isolated setting of the frames, that the characters are in, creates the ideal background for this moody and indulgent but intense piece of storytelling to flow.
Death, on the other hand, is larger than life, in the sense that, we live in our work, in memories, and in thoughts. The characters and the film both yearn for this immortality of the soul which is free from all earthly ties that holds one back. The symbolism is powerful but also subjective.
The title of the film ‘Naoka’ itself refers to a makeshift bridge connecting two ends, here, reality and illusion. The staging of the characters as on the same plane but distanced from each other too signifies this divide. If the boy represents the illusion, the girl is the link to reality and the audiences are somewhere between the two depending on their perception of the same.
The cinematography tries to reflect on the broad visual aesthetics of classic expressionist films. Actually, the black-and-white option was the only way to capture the greyness of the sky and water mirroring each other, and along with it a rain drenched street, and the monotonous life of the two characters projected in the film. The dullness is mesmerizing and the idea very avant-garde.
As the two prisoners of thought continue to ponder on existential themes, their loneliness is personified. In one scene, the girl’s reflection only is seen in the mirror, however in another, the boy’s reflection becomes apparent. There are several possible interpretations. Maybe the girl only exists in his imagination, or maybe it’s the other way around: the guy is the projection of the girl’s thoughts. Because, the girl reveals at the end of the film that no one else in the town knows about him but her. Even I don’t think that I was able to fully comprehend it. With this review, I have only tried to offer a quick closure on everything I could grasp. But I adore it for its ambiguity.
There are also references to the elements that create life, nature and the world. A cut to water and the girl is Felice. Because of their healing nature and ability to flow, the girl and the water are compared in this scene. Water, like time, moves forward. It is only life that is constant. Air serves as a conduit for self-expression. That is why the characters are sitting at a distance and waiting for a gust of wind. In fact, the smoke from Dali’s cigarette transformed the sky into a surrealist painting! Fire symbolizes transformation – it’s time to transform because nothing can be done in the town and it doesn’t require his services. And Earth – because Dali has now blended in with the environment.
It’s tough to pin down exactly what the filmmakers are going for in the film because each scene has its own level of ambiguity, whether it’s in the spoken words or the imagery. The film also refers to the universality of art. It’s complex, yet it’ll mean different things to different people. What better illustration could there be than Salvador Dali’s visit to Assam? Or perhaps it’s about the act of creating art itself — a writer in Kafka, a musical Beethoven, and an impressionist Dali. Every form of art then comes together to create an illusion right in front of us. And this film too is no exception in this regard.