Director: Sridhar Rangayan
Cast: Mona Ambegaonkar, Ananth Mahadevan, Devansh Doshi, Arpit Chaudhary, Yamini Singh
The last five minutes of Evening Shadows – a feature-length drama about a young gay man coming out to his traditional-minded Kannadiga parents on his visit back home – inadvertently reveals a lot about the language of Indian filmmaking.
Vasudha, the boy's mother and the movie's central character, explodes in front of her patriarchal husband. She waxes eloquent about how motherhood is lost on entitled fathers. She is finally heard. Stripped of artificial devices like background music, sound cues and even "acting" to an extent, there is a sense of organic truth to this scene, starring the familiar (mother) Mona Ambegaonkar. It feels like a genuinely private family moment; the camera is only invading their space.
It's no surprise that, in a nation built upon a foundation of suppressed feelings and domestic subservience, the on-screen explosion is invariably the most honest part of its stories (Alia Bhatt's career thrives on these scenes). This might be the case because these moments are usually wishful – here, it's a long-suffering woman confronting a dominant man – in context of the narrative. They don't actually happen in such households, which is why there are no rules and references to "perform" to or borrow from. So the actors and filmmakers harness their own lived-in truths and experiences to express a rare resolution; the elements of movie-making then fade away, and the elements of life replace them.
Unfortunately, one has to often wait for the climax to witness this outburst. Everything that precedes it, as in the case of Sridhar Rangayan's film here, is invariably rubbish: Awkward writing is interspersed with mediocre approximations of the real world. The reason, of course, is the quintessential Indian habit of "interpreting" – and therefore, over-performing – dynamics that already exist. You can sense that they are restricted by rules and mediums. The thought process is this: "if we're making a movie, we might as well make it look and sound like one". The result: banal elevator music (the flute has never sounded so student-film-ish) peppers what is visibly an attempt at social-message filmmaking. Stereotypes riddle each personality. The boy is shown to be 'unique' because, in his wise mother's words, he is a big-city photographer, he likes art, cooking and is very sensitive. It stops short of calling him effeminate. If the purpose is to normalize queer culture, this filmmaker certainly isn't doing it any favours. The father mumbles "hopeless woman" to demonstrate his misogyny. A background song comparing the mother to a 'stream that flows but is caught between two river banks' plays over her downcast face. The son sings old Hindi songs to himself when he is happy. Loudly. Who does that? His boyfriend in Mumbai tensely waits for the Section 377 verdict (which serves no real purpose to the film). They are awful actors.
The hyperactive aunt is designed as comic relief, but she comes across as a lady inspired by Hrithik Roshan's ill-conceived Main Prem Ki Deewani Hu performance. An uncle, a molester who was the boy's first lover, lusts for him on his return by licking his lips and narrowing his eyes. The gaze is interesting; it sympathizes more with the woman than the boy, and tries to capture the essence of her social conditioning. But the film is 70 minutes too long despite a running time of 101 minutes.
At one point, the shaken wife calls up her husband, an electricity board employee, when the power of their own house is cut. "You ensure that the entire town has power, but you can't provide it to your own home," she remarks, sincerely, before he angrily hangs up. On any other day, this might have been a decent metaphor. Only, I'm not sure a film like Evening Shadows knows what a metaphor is. I'm not sure any "socially relevant" Indian film is modest enough to be nuanced, because they have the ready-made and allegedly progressive excuse of aiming to reach the masses. They strive to spread awareness, but have zero self-awareness. As a wise man once said: Hopeless movie.