“Have you ever been blindfolded?” Aneek Chaudhuri asks, when I wonder about the title of his new film, White, an anthology of three stories about three women who’ve been raped. “Have you come across a blind person? You must have! The answer is best known to those who have seen enough darkness but still hope for light. White refers to a ray of hope existing among women even in the darkest situation. Even after facing the menace of rape, women are not devoid of serenity and hope – the hope for a normal life.”
Last year, Chaudhuri’s Streer Potro (The Wife’s Letter) was screened at the market. Eventually, Amazon Prime bought the film and released in a few territories. Chaudhuri credits his sales agent, Adler and Associates. “I was a novice. They held my hand through each step along the way.” Like White, Streer Potro is an abstract film. Chaudhuri was inspired by the surrealism of Dali and simplicity of Tagore (whose story formed the basis of the narrative.) Which led me to my first question.
You label the film “three women, three tales.” Did you have Ray’s Teen Kanya (Three Daughters) in mind? Like Ray’s film, White is an anthology. Plus, the stories in the Ray film were also sourced from Tagore.
White was not inspired either by Ray or Tagore; it is the sequence of daily events that triggered me to create something. I had never been responsible earlier and created something for society’s sake. Now, if I speak of the anthology part, I believe 3 is a very important number. 3 has the alphabetic characteristic of W; if we observe closely, there are 3 dots in W as well as in 3 that are not connected to each other but the root is the same. So is the power of White, whose three stories run down on the common root of rape.
Wow, that is quite an answer. Why did you feel this needed to be a silent film?
I wanted no language barrier in a film whose topic is universal. Rape is not an Indian issue. It is a menace in many parts of the globe.
The film stresses more on the power of these women in fighting back after the assault and leading a normal life
In a sense, your film is about rape, given that it shows the lives of three women after they’ve been raped. But given that you don’t have dialogues or backstories, it’s only the press kit that gives us the rape angle. To an uninformed audience, the sadness of these women could have risen from any other reason. Why did you choose not to spell out the rape aspect?
I believe rape has just not been shown directly and my audiences are much more intelligent than I am. Here, rape is a symptom of an existing patriarchal society; the film stresses more on the power of these women in fighting back after the assault and leading a normal life.
Your women do utterly mundane things like peeling vegetables or sewing. This is a huge contrast to the mainstream narrative pattern, where rape equals revenge. Just last year, we had a number of films like Mom that used rape as a pretext for vigilante justice. Of course, you didn’t want to go down that path, but did you not want some sense of closure for your characters?
In White, each tale has only one protagonist who is fighting back silently. I stress more on deadpan cinema in portraying situations than stressing on conventional emotions. A rape victim is devoid of consistent feelings or fears to depict spontaneous emotions even to herself. White employs a very logical method of narration where sewing is meant for the expected baby (conceived out of rape). This involves much more detailing and evokes more emotions. In this film, anger has been overpowered by a sense of motherhood; the protagonists indulge in normal activities in order to provide the child a normal life.
I loved this touch in the first story that the girl is still a believer. Despite her plight, she’s not given up on God.
She is worshipping herself too, where the mirror is suddenly replaced by god through careful montage selection. It’s about respecting yourself, your soul!
In a sense, each of these stories is “narrated” through the music – a solo instrument in each case. (Two stories are soundtracked by a flute, one by a violin.) Did you see the music as replacing more conventional “dialogue”?
The music plays the role of a harmony, a synchronisation that is still present in their lives.
The first story goes on for a little over 30 minutes. The second is some ten-odd minutes. It could have easily been the other way around. Why did you feel this much time was enough for the second episode, given that there’s more of a “story”?
The second tale is direct. It required direct storytelling rather than narrating every detail of the struggle, as the orphan child has faded memories of her dead mother. So things couldn’t be lingered on.
This second story is quite a stylistic departure from the first and third segments. The editing is more jittery (and not just because you’re showing the past and the present), the camerawork is flashier (a tilted angle, for instance). How did you decide on this style?
I concentrated more on a cinéma vérité style for the second tale where faded memories and documented moments were more suitable (in my view) than subtle projections.
In the last story alone, you show the progression of time through dates in a corner of the screen.
This story is about a village, so I needed things to be as simple as possible. In order to keep an earthy touch, I did so.
A bluish flare peeping through the window symbolises liberty within your reach but hard to attain
You’ve talked of Ritwik Ghatak, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Salvador Dali as being your inspirations. Can you tell us one thing each of these masters has taught you, something we can find in your cinema?
Salvador Dali’s surrealist style had inspired me to make The Wife’s Letter. Kieślowski made me fascinated with colour theory and its implication in cinema, and Ghatak has taught me to show life in cinema. He reminds one that life is not perfect; it is the way one perceives it to be. Each of my films comprises surrealist patterns while depicting either a female or male character. Kieślowski has inspired me a lot in White as well, where you could notice a bluish flare peeping through the window, symbolising liberty within your reach but hard to attain.
I saw an interview where you’d categorically stated that your target audience has always been festival goers and critics. Don’t you feel a subject like the one in White needs to reach out to larger numbers?
Yes, through festivals, I hope the word gets spread, and the film gets the chance to reach masses around the world. I want this film to be globally viable.