Director: Abhishek Roy Sanyal
Presenter: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Sharvari Manoj Kashid, Raghuvir Yadav, Mukti Ravi Das, Kritika Pande
A father-son relationship is a complicated one. A blank book can be written with the words left unsaid between them. It’s often the case of two males, two egos, two hearts too conditioned by the myths of masculinity to bare their souls to one another. It gets especially complicated when the roles are exchanged – that is, when the son is old enough to be a father, and the father gets old enough to be an infant again.
This conflict is a source of tension in most households. As a result, an unlikely resolution is central to most movie narratives. In Inception, a team of dream extractors helps a son achieve closure by weaponizing his father’s last words. In Abhishek Roy Sanyal’s Durga, a little girl (Sharvari Manoj Kashid), the youngest of the household, becomes this medium of closure. Durga’s father (Mukti Ravi Das) is away on a job, her ailing grandfather (Raghuvir Yadav) is waiting for the man to return. That night, she sees a dream in which the old man asks her to pass on a message to his absent son. They sound like his last words.
The premise may sound far-fetched, but Durga is far more perceptive than its simple treatment lets on. A child’s mind senses a vacuum: it sees things for what they should be rather than what they are. Durga, too, is at a stage of her life when she has only just grasped the concept of familial bonds. A father and son not talking to each other is unnatural to her, which is why her subconscious – her dream that night – fills in the gap and writes the words that were left unsaid between the two men. Even if they weren’t true, her innocence moulds them into the truth. It’s also fitting that the grandfather speaks through her – the man, after all, is old enough to be an infant again. And both of them are cared for by the same father. The dream, too, is thoughtfully designed: the old man is feeding a calf while speaking to his granddaughter. In short, he is going the way he wants to be remembered: as a caregiver and as a father who fed his lonely son even in the darkness. Few Indian short films have been able to storify the circle of life the way Durga does.
It’s a film of both tragedy and hope: the tragedy of what can’t be fixed, and the hope of what can be repaired. It isn’t perfect – the child’s voice over, for instance, dilutes the depth of the story. But Durga is perfect for the invisible portrait it paints – of a daughter as the healer in a rural family of regrets and broken fathers. The name, which refers to a goddess who personifies fierce motherhood, can be just as tender.