Director: Devashish Makhija
Cast: Trimala Adhikari, Manuj Sharma
Devashish Makhija's Happy, like most of his films, is anything but happy. This 7-minute short, shot in a single room, is composed of a darkness so literal that its language leaves no room for translation by sanitized consciences and reluctant reportage. It opens with a young housemaid watching cartoons on her cellphone. Her bruised face suggests that she is a regular victim of sexual violence. For once here, her mind is at rest – tuning out the noise and tuning into the most animated escape from reality. Maybe cartoons are her way of briefly rediscovering an innocence long lost in the stark documentary of violated womanhood.
A man enters. He arrives with such monstrous intentions that even the cartoon's soundtrack expands as if it were revealing a villain. She goes pale. He forces her to dress like a schoolgirl. As she looks for a frock, the vile man turns himself on by watching on his phone a video of a minor being raped by another monster. He wants to re-enact the crime with this woman, and demands that she, like the video's hapless child, resists and fights back. What follows is an explicit sequence that reveals all the difficult moments that we, not unlike our nation's storytellers, omit from our imaginations while visualizing the horrors of sexual abuse. The second we hear about a crime like this, it's human nature to wince and edit out the details.
Also Read: Devashish Makhija's Advice To Short Filmmakers
This brings me to how Happy, in more ways than one, plays out like a deleted scene that nobody wants to locate. On its own, as an independently damning critique of casual misogyny, the film risks being viewed as an exercise of exploitative awareness. But being familiar with director Devashish Makhija's filmography lends a much-needed layer of context to its narrative. The video the man watches is not random. Makhija's feature film, Ajji (2017), was based on an old slum-dwelling woman who exacts gory revenge on the local politician who raped her little granddaughter. For a film that was already a distinctly disturbing watch, it felt like small mercy that Ajji never actually shows the incident that triggered the unlikely vigilante tale. Until now.
Happy is B Bhorty– it features Umya, the rapist Dhavle's loyal employee, who seems to have saved his boss' self-shot video of the incident. Umya wants to recreate it with Dolly, the long-suffering housemaid. The actors, a terrific Trimala Adhikari and Manuj Sharma, who informed the backdrop of Ajji form the foreground here – their film seems to be unfurling simultaneously with the events of Ajji. This is an oddly effective way of revealing that there is no such thing as a "happy ending" for stories that hinge on the heinous crimes. The films only focus on the absolute resolution of one thread, in the process overlooking a frantic reproduction of several infected sub-threads occurring outside the frame of angry cameras. Even though the old grandmother gets her revenge, Happy is evidence that the rapist might have already triggered a sequence of invisible, everyday crimes unfurling beyond her reach. Destroying one cell, after all, cannot contain the whole cancer.
That Makhija found the strength to revisit his most nihilistic film in order to fashion a "spin-off" of sorts deserves credit. Happy isn't perfect, but there's more to it than meets the eye. Not for the first time (Agli Baar, Taandav, Ajji), the voyeuristic dimension of technology – more specifically, the cell phone camera – is used to reflect the psychological violation of a culture. Cameras have the power to capture souls, not just images. Dhavle may be gone, but his legacy – through the permanence of recorded footage – was destined to live on. Ajji is over, but that's no reason to be Happy.