It’s just the first day of a 21-day nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19, but it’s more like the 10th or 11th day of isolation. Apart from two quick runs to stock up on water cans, emergency medicines and grocery, the outside world has remained out of bounds for almost the entire length of this period. Naturally, the initial optimism that accompanied the first two or three days of #WFH/#StayAtHome has now been safely laid to rest.
The books I’d planned on reading to feel productive have all been earmarked for later before crossing Chapter 1. The Fassbinder box-set stares ominously at me, judging my every click to move on to the next Adam Sandler movie on Netflix. The illusion of control can come to me later. What I need right now is the illusion of comfort.
The #Corona jokes aren’t funny anymore, online games aren’t as fun and the decreasing size of my junk-food stockpile is inversely proportionate to my waistline. Add to this my inherently cynical nature, lack of exercise and vitamin D, and increasing stress levels, and this lockdown sure looks impossible to get through.
Bharathan’s Malayalam film Malootty has been constantly playing on my head each time things seem to be getting worse. A print of the film is available on Hotstar, and it perfectly sums up the panic that’s been spreading all around. Like the film’s leads Raji (Urvashi) and Unni (Jayaram), for many, this isolation period too may have started off as a vacation/staycation to break the routine of daily life. But when their five-year-old daughter Malootty falls into an uncovered bore well, plummeting deeper with each attempt to rescue her, it starts reflecting the mindset of most of us today. We are at once the worried parents trying to save their child and also the child stuck in a deep tunnel incapable of helping herself.
A milder version of the claustrophobia and the suffocation she feels in there has started to take over our thoughts. There’s nothing really we can do but remain still in the hope that someone’s making the right decisions to take us out of here. Relationships are bound to get strained as people share small spaces and limited resources. But like Malootty in the film, we find peace and companionship in the unlikeliest of places. Like she finds a friend in a mouse deep inside the well, we too find intermittent bursts of relief when long-lost friends message to check on us or when the neighbour we’ve never spoken to offers a share of groceries if things were to get worse.
This is the first in a series of log entries to record emotions, moods and the movies that take up the mind of the self-isolated.
Whether you’re outside this metaphorical well or trapped inside it, these 21 days are going to teach you new things about yourself that no self-help books or Fassbinder’s movies would have managed to. Given that finding meaning is a stage of grief we’re all bound to go through during this period, there’s no harm looking for that meaning in films you always thought you understood.