Director: Rakhee Sandilya
Cast: Sumeet Vyas, Kalki Koechlin
In this era of glossy urban relationship dramas and multiplex-age romances, Ribbon is a strange film. It plays out like a montage of scenes from a young city marriage – each of them representing a particular phase lodged between the romanticized and more heightened moments usually depicted in mainstream movies.
Interestingly, each scene is comprised of a long, single, unbroken shot. The film hardly has any cuts at all. The handheld camera shadows its action at all costs, over-the-shoulder and inside cars, bedrooms, office cabins and cramped elevators – as if to prove that life doesn’t afford us the luxury of aesthetic, depth and angles in real time. Rhythm is more of a broad timeline device; it occurs over many sequences rather than within each scene.
Where Ribbon falters, though, is in its depiction of apathy and male privilege. There is a gender discrimination and corporate sexism thread whose execution – and not relevance – belongs to the 1990s
This documentary-meets-stage brand of chamber realism mostly works because of how it forces the actors (Sumeet Vyas as Karan Mehra, and a fantastic Kalki Koechlin as Sahana Mehra) to inhabit their characters chapter-wise without narrative interruptions. More than once, we hear Karan and Sahana’s lines overlapping chaotically, as they flit through awkward silences, hesitant emotions and unrehearsed body language. We sense that none of this is accidental. Sumeet and Kalki might have spent a lot of time together to familiarize themselves with the pace of modern-day companionship, not unlike Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams shacking up together in a house for months to prepare for the jaded post-pregnancy portions of Blue Valentine.
Karan and Sahana too, like most suburban Bombay couples, come across as distinct individuals who have united solely to survive the city and make their own goals a little more achievable. Karan, a structural engineer, seems like the kind of straight-shooting guy who strives to tick-mark the “Great Indian Dream” list: escape parents, professional course, car, marriage, dream home, cute baby. The last two, though, get a bit jumbled up for him – the baby plan is pushed ahead, which means the home loan plan has to be accelerated. He thinks it is only a minor change, but pursuing an upper-middle-class lifestyle often needs clinical precision. Even if one of them stops working for a while, the household income is halved, which doubles the timeframe of these grand plans. Adapting is an uphill battle.
Slowly, he realizes that perhaps Sahana was right when she had impulsively demanded an abortion – because they weren’t “ready”. But he has always been the “we’ll figure it out” man: a typically trained engineer who believes in working backward to achieve a solution (first buy a house, then “figure out” finances; first have a baby, then “figure out” parenting; first lose grip of your family, then “figure out” the problem). The film attempts to take him to a point where he ends up screaming, “I’ll figure it out!” – because society ensures that it has always been Sahana who bore the brunt of their decisions. And soon, it could be their little girl, Aashi.
Sahana is demoted at work for being on maternity leave, which ironically pushes Karan to become one of those “long-distance” husbands who is destined to miss all the key moments of his daughter’s childhood. This is a vicious cycle of many a marriage: the sacrifices made to achieve invisible futures often overshadow the entire point of togetherness. For most part, Kalki and Sumeet sound like they are married to each other – because they spend much of their time discussing things and reacting to one another instead of communicating thoughts and “acting” like responsible adults.
Where Ribbon falters, though, is in its depiction of apathy and male privilege. There is a gender discrimination and corporate sexism thread whose execution – and not relevance – belongs to the 1990s. The picture it paints of the world that forces our protagonists into an us-against-them huddle is much too obvious. Characters like Sahana’s company bosses, multinational interview committees, the family’s nanny and Aashi’s school principal sound ridiculously tutored – almost caricature-ish – designed solely to wrong the frantic couple.
Ribbon isn’t quite a “story” with a start and stop point; in fact it begins at the end of most love stories, and ends at the beginning of most dysfunctional family dramas. The tone is such that I’d have lapped it up at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival – as one of several unfussy, unglamorous, non-plot-based character pieces whose concluding cut-to-black slates are impossible to predict. There’s a beautiful moment towards the end in which a hand reaches out to touch another in the dark. Fingers lock desperately, not out of unbridled passion or desire like the old times. Their connected palms form a ribbon of sorts, over a sleeping child. No words are exchanged. On closer observation, it seems to suggest: “We will figure it out”. Yet, there’s more defeat than victory in this gesture. The incomplete journey is bookended by a pregnancy and a crisis. That the pregnancy was the crisis in the opening minutes puts into perspective the unforgiving continuity of legal commitment.
Watch the trailer of Ribbon here: