Director: Srinivas Sunderrajan
Writers: Rasika Dugal, Mukul Chadda
Cast: Rasika Dugal, Mukul Chadda
Streaming: Terribly Tiny Tales
A sanitized Shruti (Rasika Dugal) notices her awkward new neighbour (Mukul Chadda) exiting the elevator. He’s barely set up his home, so she freely invites him into hers to use her water filter as long as they follow the six-feet rule. Before you know it, they’re watching Sherlock in her living room – he’s on the sofa, she’s on the floor – and discussing their society’s paranoid lockdown laws. The masks, literally and figuratively, are off. It’s of course logistically convenient, but casting a real-life married couple as two single tenants aching for human company is a smart move: They bring different dimensions of cabin fever to the same equation. In a pre-Covid world, these two characters might have never hit it off. She might have never felt the need to help, chat, laugh and watch TV with a virtual stranger. The quirky conversational nature of the short also poses curious new questions: Is the enforcement of physical boundaries dissolving the inhibitions of social boundaries? Is the difficulty of touching one another making it easier to talk to one another?
Lockdown filmmaking is an evolving beast. I like the way artists are adapting. The actors are now more than just performers; they’re (officially) in on the storytelling side of things. The anatomy of the end credits is changing, too. For instance, Banana Bread is “framed by” director Srinivas Sunderrajan, but “shot by” its actors Rasika Dugal and Mukul Chadda. This is a legitimate distinction. Framing is an important language in Banana Bread, given that it’s a short film about two neighbours who are coming to terms with the spatial grammar of social distancing. The two characters are mentally isolated and visibly lonely, and therefore appear at opposite corners of their own frames: If the woman is speaking from the left of one frame, the next shot reveals the man speaking from the right of another frame. This makes the interaction look like a distant video chat within the same space. In a “normal” world, the separate shots might have been superimposed onto one another to reveal the two singles sharing a single frame. In fact, as they get more comfortable with each other, the final minute shows them gravitating towards the center of both separate and shared frames.
The echoey live sound of the indoor cameras (phones?) further informs the crippling sense of quarantine – at another time in history, it might have felt tacky, but here it sort of blends into the characters’ closed and distinctly uncinematic universes. The only problem with the film is the way it ends. I get that absurdity is the flavour of the hour, and that human behaviour is in itself a self-sustaining satire. But when a short about real people in a surreal situation ends with a punchline, it automatically reduces their story to a joke. And that’s remarkably different from a comedy. Which is a pity, because Banana Bread, unlike the baking fad it’s titled after, is not a joke. It’s sarcastic, sweet, well-acted and wryly observational, even if the world it interprets feels like a morbid joke. Not even Sherlock can decode these times.