Dispatch from DIFF: Varun Grover’s Short Film Kiss Tries too Hard

Kiss was screened at the 11th edition of Dharamshala International Film Festival
Dispatch from DIFF: Varun Grover’s Short Film Kiss Tries too Hard

The titular kiss in Kiss (Bosa in Urdu and Chumban in Hindi) is first heard, not seen — the sound of forceful half-breaths and wet lips slapping slowly against each other on a movie screen in front of a censor board, each checking their watch to note the duration of the “lovemaking”.

But something is off. On the watch of the director Sam (Adarsh Gourav) the scene clocks 50 seconds. The watch of one of the censors (Shubhrajyoti Barat) shows 3 minutes 11 seconds and the other (Swanand Kirkire) records 2 minute 25 seconds — one is a jholawala the other has his shirt tucked into his pants, both with ballooning stomachs. The time code of the film notes that the scene, officially, is 28 seconds. Everyone has a personal relation to time, but by transplanting this subjectivity onto the clock — the last vestige of what is objective, what is incontestable, what is a common thread through us all — Kiss kicks up something foul.

An explanation is then given that both warms the censors to the film and each character to their past. Writer-director Varun Grover wants to insist on a softness where the censor and the artist can meet. This softness is about trauma — each one brings to their work their own private wars, where their scars manifest as scenes or snaps. Why does an artist insist on having two men kiss? Why does the censor recoil from watching the kiss?

Barely 15 minutes, the film takes place in the polished interiors of what is supposed to be a single screen theater — seats looking waxed, stage looking dusted, upholstery looking laundered, elements of art deco looking like wiped, gleaming reliefs. Sam is holding the screening of his film in this “purana theater” because it is the only one that has a 35 mm projector. (A censor dismisses him as “Kurusowa ka najayaz aulaad”, Kurosawa’s bastard child)

While conceptually innovative, Kiss foregrounds its oddness with such a confected, obvious hand, like the tick-tick-tick musical landscape that hints at tension and impending suspense, like the grit-less set design, that it lacks the emotional thrust required for the idea to land; for the pathos to expand beyond the limits (and limitations) of style. Like polished flakes, the film feels like an idea that was turned around, chewed over with a thorough, thoughtful attention, without letting anything of texture emerge. When, towards the end, the kiss that was heard is finally seen, little strikes — eros or empathy.

The film was shown at the 11th edition of Dharamshala International Film Festival, from 3 to 6 November 2022. A digital edition of DIFF 2022 will go online from 7 to 13 November with a truncated lineup.

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