Language: Malayalam (with English subtitles)
Director: Vipin P Vijayan
Cast: Krishnan Potti, Athul
Perhaps the most striking part of Vipin P Vijayan’s Malayalam-language short Irupuram (Two Sides) is the way it employs one genre of storytelling to suggest another. The “other side,” one that is barely seen but belatedly sensed, lends a strange sense of relevance to the visible – and more conventional – narrative. For the most part, Irupuram is a cleverly shot social drama about a lonely old man who occupies the family home.
Everyone else has moved out, and all he is left with are memories. Apart from the housemaid and newspaper boy, his only contact with the outside world are patronizing phone calls from children who are busy with their own lives; his daughter instructs him to not trust the new maid, and his son has a business-like tone that seems to hint that his duty ends with the money he sends. The man, meanwhile, white beard and wrinkled skin, is a portrait of abandonment in a culture that often tends to misinterpret self-sufficiency as independence. He imagines the chatter of times gone by at the dinner table, and is snapped out of his reverie by food clunked onto the table by a lady who is little more than an off-screen voice to him (and us).
The camera spends half the film focusing on his face – in pursuit of highlighting a sense of tragedy about an adult who, while succumbing to the circularity of life, is closer to feeling like a baby. This is not an unusual theme in Indian cinema. The isolated parent syndrome is visually stark and inherently manipulative, and almost never fails to elicit an emotional response from its viewers. Most of us spend our waking hours trying to forget about how frail our parents might be or become; such images are an uncomfortable reminder of the people we leave behind in order to move forward.
Irupuram plays out as one film, and is bookended by the history of another. Only the final few moments of this film reveal why it is “cleverly shot”. At this point, Irupuram becomes more than just a tale about a neglected, withering father. The end is a little left-of-field and awkwardly executed, but it is a necessary layer of broader commentary, and one I find difficult to write about without drowning in spoilers. It is not entirely for effect, which is in a way a small victory for the director. After all, it’s not every day that context turns a depressing film into a depressing film with depth.